"I call you."
Those three words commonly spoken in poker seemed to be the challenge of California's legislative Republicans to Democratic Governor Jerry Brown last Thursday when they introduced Brown's pension reform package as their bill.
Feigning ideological compatibility, State Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff said with a reasonably straight face, "Today we (Republicans) stand here with the governor to get this pension reform."
Just like that, Republicans have seized control of the pension reform issue with Brown's own words. Just like that, they have presented themselves as the party of cooperation rather than the party of obstruction.
Of course, lost in the brilliant move was the stalemate six months earlier that preceeded it. Last summer, Brown offered the pension reform measure in return for Republicans agreeing to place his temporary tax increases measure on the fall ballot. They opposed that proposal. Now, with Brown moving forward with a November initiative effort, legislative Republicans can seize their issue without the need to compromise on anything else.
Talk about your PR victory!
Meanwhile, the GOP move leaves Democrats in an awkward position. Brown has about as much ability to control the majority legislative Democrats as a weather forecaster to end a drought. Sure, Brown wants to move forward on the idea, but legislative Democrats, allied with union supporters, are bound to move slowly, if at all.
Still, most observers are likely to pay more attention to Brown's inability to get the pension deal done than the differences between Democrats in the executive and legislative branches.
Sometimes, the quality of the hands people hold in poker are far less important than the way they play their cards. With seemingly little clout, legislative Republicans have played their hand well on the pension reform issue. Whatever Democrats decide to do now will be done from a position of weakness rather than strength.