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Jerry Brown laments 'atrophying' political process [Updated]

August 2, 2011 |  3:25 pm

Photo: California Gov. Jerry Brown. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images Gov. Jerry Brown called the recent debt-ceiling debate "a very dangerous and sorry spectacle" that reflects a decaying American political system, and said he would consider changes to the state term-limits law, or perhaps even a part-time Legislature, to try to make California more governable.

Brown, who first served as governor from 1975 to 1983, said the rancorous divisions between Democrats and Republicans in Sacramento and Washington have surprised him. "What is shocking to me coming back here after 27 years is the hyperpartisan quality of debate," he said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "There’s something atrophying in the political process. It’s getting extremely rigid and inflexible."

Brown did not propose any magic fixes or remedies. But he said term limits and a full-time Legislature were among the political changes over the last decades that may have exacerbated Sacramento partisanship.

When asked if he would support a part-time Legislature, Brown said, "I’m not ready to offer my thoughts on that yet. I will note that my father spent eight years under a part-time Legislature. But is that going to do it? Is that going to ease the rigidity and the obsessive quality of partisan identification? That obsessive, partisan ideology is what’s making it impossible to govern."

He compared the Republican Party to the Catholic Church he encountered as a young theologian. “This budget reminded me of doctrines, from back when I was in the seminary,” he said. “If you’re 15 minutes late to church, you could burn in hell. That’s how Republicans are about taxes. There’s a fanaticism. They are deeply stuck in a no-tax identity that is almost now, on the national level, a religion.

" 'No taxes' is a central dogma in the new Republican church. You can’t deviate," he said. "They won’t burn you at the stake, but they’ll recall you ... nobody up here has the courage or cojones to do anything about it," he said.

He also had choice words for Democrats, who he said increasingly vote in a bloc on nearly everything in the Legislature.

Brown, who pushed for state budget cuts to balance the books, called for a new injection of federal spending to help the nation’s lagging economy and weak jobs picture.

“We need a stimulus,” he said. “The federal government spends hundreds of billions in California, on Social Security, defense, funding for education, Medi-Cal. You start turning that off, we’ll go into a deeper hole.

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-- Anthony York in Sacramento

Photo: California Gov. Jerry Brown. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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