If at first you don’t succeed, be glad Jerry Brown is governor.

In at least five cases this year, Brown has given legislators a mulligan, signing versions of bills he either vetoed or dissed in the past.

In four cases, it was government working the way it’s supposed to, with legislators getting together with the governor to craft a compromise bill everyone could live with.

One of the reasons that governors have the veto power is so they can tamp down the, ah, enthusiasms of the Legislature, including – and especially – lawmakers of his own party.

Knowing that your bill is never going to see the light of the day unless you’re willing to play nice with the governor does a remarkable job of focusing a legislator on the essentials of his measure.

And then there’s the fifth case, which was an example of Brown being, well, Brown.

The governor was down in Los Angeles last Thursday, signing a bill giving undocumented residents the right to get a California driver’s license. Then it was off to Fresno to mark the occasion in that heavily Latino community.

“When a million people without their documents drive legally and with respect in California, the rest of the country will have to stand up and take notice,” the governor said in Los Angeles. “No longer are undocumented people in the shadows. They are alive and well and respected in the state of California.”

Stirring words, especially from a man who said during his 2010 campaign for governor that, like Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, he was opposed to letting illegal immigrants get licenses, arguing that it “sends the wrong signal.”

But one of Brown’s charms is that he’s never seen consistency as a special virtue and has always been willing to reverse his political field, to both the delight and chagrin of onlookers.


In this case, the governor said he changed his mind because of what he saw as “foot dragging” in Washington over the question of immigration reform. If the nation’s biggest state is willing to make serious moves toward reform, he reasoned, it would send a message to Congress.

While there’s a real question about whether Congress is accepting any messages these days, state legislators got a reminder of just how unpredictable the governor can be, for better or worse.

A pair of San Francisco legislators also won their rematches. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano saw Brown sign the domestic workers rights bill that was vetoed last year as well as a measure to bar law state law enforcement officers from detaining undocumented workers on immigration holds.

State Sen. Mark Leno’s bill on industrial hemp finally got an OK, after being vetoed by both Schwarzenegger and Brown, and his effort to allow children to have three legal parents (don’t ask) also was approved on the second try.

In all four cases, the governor hinted in his veto messages that he wasn’t unalterably opposed to the idea of the bills, but only to some of the details.

In Ammiano’s case, his 2012 “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights” would have provided domestic workers with overtime pay, meal breaks, uninterrupted rest periods, easier eligibility for workers compensation and a variety of other benefits.

Brown vetoed it on economic grounds, but all but said he would back a narrower bill. Ammiano responded with AB 241, which made domestic workers eligible for overtime pay, and the governor signed it.

The immigration hold bill was even simpler. In his veto message last year, Brown said it made it too hard for law enforcement to keep even the real bad actors in custody for possible deportation. This year, Ammiano added a whole bunch of prior and current crimes that would keep people in the slammer until immigration officials had time to sort it out.

Leno also had to compromise to get his industrial hemp bill past Brown. His bill last year called for legalizing hemp farming in California and would have set up a pilot program in four counties.

Brown vetoed it because federal law makes hemp, a kissing cousin of marijuana, a controlled substance, which means farmers could have found themselves in a federal pen if they planted their “legal in California” crop.


But again, Brown gave Leno the nod.

“Although I’m not signing this measure, I do support a change in federal law,” the governor said in his veto measure last year. “It is absurd that hemp is being imported (from overseas) into our state, but our farmers can’t grow it.”

So Leno’s new bill makes it legal to grow industrial hemp in California, but only if the federal government legalizes it. For Brown, problem solved.

(In an aside, while industrial hemp won’t get anyone high, it’s interesting that Leno’s bill was a major story on blogs like “tokeofthetown,” “cannabration,” “grasscity,” “thejointblog,” and others with a similar, ah, air.)

Although Brown has only vetoed a handful of bills so far this year, that pace is going to pick up as the signing deadline looms later this month. Watch those veto messages and read between the lines to see which bills he wants to see back on his desk again.

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.