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SKELTON: Brown's unseemly free ride to China

  • Gov. Jerry Brown talks to reporters aboard a high-speed train in China. (NG HAN GUAN / Associated Press)

You know things are going splendidly for a governor when he can arrange a weeklong jaunt through China and not have to pay a cent himself — or even dip into the public till.

The fact that it's sort of a 75th birthday bash for Gov. Jerry Brown and that the roughly 90 invitees — mostly special interests, but also some longtime chums — are willing to pay $10,000 each, plus trans-Pacific airfare, is particularly impressive.

Oh, OK, it's a “trade and investment mission.”

Whatever it is, trip organizers were turning people away before departure, a sign of this governor's continued smooth sailing politically.

A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll last month found that 49 percent of state voters approved of how Brown was handling his job, remarkably high considering the low esteem in which many politicians are held these days; only 37 percent disapproved.

But there's just something out of focus about this China picture.

First, if the junket really is worth the governor's time and energy — if the state actually does stand to benefit — then the state should be paying for it, not a bunch of special interests. That $10,000 “participation fee” for each attendee also covers costs for the governor and his 10 or so aides, according to trip organizers.

It just looks unseemly — a pack of lobbyists and other favor-seekers paying big bucks to traipse after the governor, schmoozing and gaining invaluable access.

However, organizers may have missed an opportunity. With a horde of 90, they could have sold tickets to watch the sharp elbows and body blocks by interests trying to cozy up to the oft-aloof governor.

Brown isn't the first to finance foreign gallivanting with special interest money. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also did.

Gov. George Deukmejian did not, not really. A few business interests would tag along briefly and host a lavish reception for foreign VIPs, but Duke would pay for his own costs with state money.

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