SACRAMENTO — After returning to the governor's office, Jerry Brown criticized a political culture he said lacked a common purpose and warned of a "war of all against all" unless the sniping camps learned to compromise and fix California's persistent budget problems.
Those efforts failed, and now the Democratic governor finds himself fighting his own political battle as he tries to persuade voters to pass a $6 billion tax increase on the November ballot that he says is crucial for closing the state's deficit.
With the election just a month away, Brown's initiative to boost the statewide sales tax by a quarter-cent and income taxes for those earning $250,000 a year or more is in jeopardy, primarily due to a wealthy brother and sister who are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and Brown's own missteps.
The political slugfest is bad news for Brown's Proposition 30 and a competing tax initiative from Molly Munger, a liberal-leaning Los Angeles civil rights attorney who is the daughter of a billionaire executive for Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.
She has spent $34 million so far in support of Proposition 38, which would raise about $10 billion a year through a broadly based income tax increase and send the revenue directly to school districts, bypassing the Legislature.
Her brother, Stanford physicist Charles Munger Jr., is a conservative who has poured more than $20 million of his fortune into a committee aimed at defeating Brown's ballot initiative and supporting a separate initiative targeting public employee unions.
The attacks from both Mungers have so angered Brown's Democratic allies that they issued a statement saying they would become known as "the millionaires who destroyed California's schools and universities."
California initiative campaigns are often exercises in excessive spending, but this fight is unusual because much of it is taking place between Democratically aligned interests seeking to accomplish essentially the same thing — restoring funding to California schools after years of budget cuts.