California Gov. Jerry Brown made a rare appearance on the 2018 campaign trail Friday, joining a final push against an effort to roll back a gas tax hike he championed to pay for highway repairs, an important component of his legacy as he prepares to leave office.
Brown, a Democrat, gave a 90-second speech during a rally at a park near notoriously congested Highway 101, which links Silicon Valley to San Francisco and the Central Valley.
He said the initiative, which Republicans hope will drive their voters to the polls, was cooked up by “shady politicians” who want to fool Californians.
“Prop. 6 is a scheme and a scam put on the ballot by some partisans, actually, they’re acolytes of Donald Trump,” the governor said. “They don’t have the best interests of California in mind.”
The leading faces of the campaign against the measure have been firefighters and construction workers, dozens of whom attended the rally, holding signs and chanting “No on 6.” They say transportation upgrades are badly needed for jobs as well as public safety.
Carl DeMaio, a conservative San Diego radio host who made an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2014, is leading the campaign for Proposition 6. It would repeal increases in gas taxes and vehicle fees that Brown backed last year to fund an expected $52 billion in transportation projects over a decade.
DeMaio and other supporters of the repeal say the hikes are overkill for an already expensive state where working families struggle to get by.
In a statement issued shortly after Brown’s appearance, Proposition 6 campaign spokesman Dave McCulloch dismissed the governor’s comments as distracting, calling them “false partisan rhetoric.”
The Yes on 6 campaign announced Friday an attention-grabbing event in car-centric Southern California: $50 gas cards for drivers who show up at certain stations on Monday and win a drawing.
McCulloch said anyone can sign up to win the cards as long as they are a registered voter and regardless of their opinion on the ballot measure.
Giving away prizes isn’t illegal for political campaigns. Jay Wierenga, a spokesman for the Fair Political Practices Commission, said he could not comment on specific cases but “generally speaking campaign funds can be used for any political, legislative or governmental purpose.”
Until Friday, Brown has worked largely behind the scenes to raise money for the campaign against the repeal. He also recorded phone messages and a television ad.
Brown historically is very selective about which causes and candidates to back and has stayed out of efforts to boost Democratic turnout in key congressional races.
His brief appearance could be his last campaign event as an elected officeholder. Brown will leave his job in January and is the only person to serve as governor of California in separate eight-year stretches.
He first served from 1975 to 1983, then was elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.
Brown led a successful campaign in 2012 to pass higher sales and income taxes for schools. Two years later, he fronted a campaign for a big water-project bond and in 2016, led a parole-overhaul initiative.
While Brown says he has no plans to run for office again, he’s certain to come back if needed to protect other parts of a legacy that includes dramatic reforms on climate issues and criminal justice as well as transportation.
“The governor has raised tens of millions of dollars to defeat Proposition 6 and his war chest will certainly be needed for the battles to come,” said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown.
Westrup said Brown, who has about $15 million remaining in his campaign account, may have to fend off possible challenges to signature policy reforms such as a 2016 parole measure.
Critics also want to kill another project dear to the governor — a high-speed rail line intended to run between San Francisco and Los Angeles that has been beset by delays and legal hurdles.