California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., who recently jumped on the balance-the-federal-budget bandwagon, is now facing an irate group of fellow riders who wish he would sit quietly and quit trying to grab the reins.
"I don't want to say we have no use for the guy," said James Davidson, chairman of the National Taxpayers Union, "but if his presidential ambitions are going to be organized along the same slipshod basis as his attempts to help the balance-the-budget cause, then he's going to self-destruct before he gets off the ground."
Brown blundered into an internecine political squabble by accepting an invitation from Republican legislators to testify Monday on behalf of a constitutional amendment on a balanced budget. His acceptance angered the Democratic governor and House minority leader, who both oppose the amendment.
An embarrassed Brown withdrew and returned to California, thus making a 6,000-mile trip for nothing.
Brown's trip here and subsequent cancellation combined to infuriate leading Democrats, Republicans and his ally, the Taxpayers Union, which has already wrapped up favorable votes for the constitutional amendment in 29 states.
Thirty-four states must approve a constitutional convention before it can be convened. The movement for an amendment to balance the federal budget was quietly launched by the union several years ago and has more recently been propelled into the limelight by Gov. Brown, a charismatic proponent.
"Things were laid out perfectly here. We had Democrats and Republicans testifying. So why did he do that? I can't figure the guy out," said Davidson. "Was it jet lag? Has April Fool's Day come a day late?"
While the Brown contretemps was taking place here, the budget amendment campaign hit another snag in nearby Massachusetts, home of the campaign's biggest critic.
The Bay State legislature voted Monday 102 to 47 against the resolution, with a heavy lobbying effort by Lt. Gov. Thomas P. O'Neill III, who is heading a belated drive to stop the convention campaign.
"This resolution is a dangerous and unpredictable way to achieve fiscal goals," said O'Neill, son of the U.S. House speaker. "This signals a decisive victory for reasoned and rational government."
In a jab at Gov. Brown, O'Neill said: "I'd like to keep politics out of this issue; it shouldn't become the springboard for presidential aspirants.
"Since Gov. Brown infused himself into this issue he's caused the National Taxpayers Union to defend him 90 percent of the time and the issue 10 percent of the time," said O'Neill. "He has taken their eyes off the ball and those politics are working in our best interest."
Added Davidson of the Taxpayers Union, "I'm hopeful that the governor can somehow be brought around to the point where he could be helpful on this issue."
Brown conceded he had been hustled in a GOP effort to embarrass the Democrats by letting sponsors of the resolution, including Brown, speak first and forcing opponents, like Gov. Hugh Gallen, to testify last.
"The Republican leadership has used this as an intramural ploy for their own efforts to not show respect for the Democratic Party," said Brown. "I am not going to be a party to a snub of the governor of New Hampshire."
Gallen, asked if Brown was welcome in New Hampshire, said: "We would be conducting the affairs of state a lot more quietly if Gov. Brown weren't here."