SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Jerry Brown has found an unlikely new best friend in his efforts to work with Republicans and fix California’s budget mess.
Brown and first lady Anne Gust Brown officially welcomed Sutter, a 7-year-old Welsh corgi, as the state’s top dog this week. The stocky, sable-colored canine with a milky white belly and marble-shaped eyes has been accompanying California’s first couple to work at the state Capitol every day.
The dog has emerged as the warm-and-fuzzy counterpoint to the often blunt demeanor of the veteran Democratic politician, and his scratch-me-on-the-belly playfulness has disarmed even the governor’s most persistent political foes during the sometimes-testy discussions over how to close the state’s $27 billion deficit.
“Sutter and I have developed a relationship,” said Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton, one of the legislative leaders with whom Brown has to negotiate on the state budget. “I met him down at the governor’s conference room. As we got to talking, I noticed there was a fur ball under my seat. He was very calm, laying there, sleeping. I think he was looking at me to be a protector of the taxpayer’s dollars.”
In announcing earlier this week that Sutter would become California’s official first dog, Anne Gust Brown told reporters gathered on the steps of the Capitol that “he’s going to herd the budget vote.” The breed of dog is best known for its herding skills.
“He gives snuggles. He warms up the Republicans. As you see, Senator Dutton is very fond of him,” she said.
Brown will take all the help he can get.
He needs some Republican votes in the state Assembly and Senate to put a five-year tax extension before California voters in a June special election. He also has called for about $12.5 billion spending cuts, a proposal that has produced resistance from Democrats.
Sutter was the pet of Jerry Brown’s sister, Kathleen, a Goldman Sachs executive who also is a former state treasurer. She decided to leave her corgi with California’s first couple when she transferred from San Francisco to Chicago after her brother won the governor’s race last year.
The move appears to be paying political dividends. Sightings of Brown and his wife walking Sutter near their midtown loft or to and from the Capitol have become fixtures since his inauguration at the start of the year. He appropriately shares the name of the 19th-century pioneer who established Sacramento’s earliest settlement.
Sutter appears to have softened the image of a governor, who at 72, isn’t known for charm and has acknowledged that he rarely smiles.
The first dog even has embraced social media, with supporters creating a Facebook page for him. On it, Sutter’s religious view is described as Zen Jesuit, “although I am not burdened with dogma (but I do like dog bones).”
His political affiliation is labeled as Whig, which he defines as “practical and not carried away by the barking constituencies.”
A Sutter account on Twitter has been labeled “unofficial” by Brown’s political adviser, Steve Glazer. A sample posting: “Heard there are very cute corgis in The Kings Speech. I come from a long line of dogs comfortable amidst statesmen & leaders.”
The breed is a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II.
In real life, Sutter has developed a reputation for eating any food dropped on the floor of the governor’s office. And that’s just fine with a governor who campaigned on his frugality, refusing the governor’s mansion when he was governor the first time around from 1975 to 1983 and choosing to drive a Plymouth instead of riding in a limo.
“He’s rooting out waste right there,” Glazer said.