The Riggs Report: Sutter Brown sadness
October 13, 2016
Why a political pooch’s illness has captivated the Capitol
Think of Sutter Brown as the accidental political superstar. When Gov. Jerry Brown and wife Anne adopted the Welsh corgi in 2011, it was to provide a home when owner Kathleen Brown, the governor’s sister, took a job out of state.
Whether it was intended or not, the arrangement became permanent. Sutter became a Capitol fixture, often spotted on walks around the grounds.
Tourists, Capitol staff and legislators alike became enamored of the little dog who likes to have his belly rubbed.
And make no mistake, Sutter also became one politically connected pup. There hadn’t been a Capitol mascot of this sort for years, ever since a feral feline known as Capitol Kitty captured a following during the administration of Governor Gray Davis.
Staffers fed and cared for the cat, and first lady Sharon Davis was even inspired to write a children’s book, “The Adventures of Capitol Kitty,” in 2002.
Whereas Capitol Kitty was elusive, Sutter was seemingly a friend to all. All of which helps explain why there has been such interest, concern and distress coming out of the Capitol with the news that Sutter is seriously ill, having undergone surgery last week to remove cancer.
On Twitter, Nancy McFadden, the governor’s executive secretary, posted, “#SutterBrown always lifts #TeamBrown up. Now it’s our turn to do the same for him.”
The governor’s press office tweeted, “First dog #SutterBrown is a fighter and we’re all pulling for him.”
Feelings for their dog aside, the Brown administration has been an astute practitioner of canine diplomacy. Sutter has been extremely effective in building political goodwill in a building known more for combat and posturing—serious business, politics.
Sutter’s tail-wagging, tongue-lolling, disarming persona has been a much-needed source of smiles. In fact, the dog has been a not-so-secret weapon for Brown, whose often-gruff demeanor has had the rough edges taken off by Sutter’s appeal.
It’s made the governor more relatable to people, generated positive media coverage and has helped build his political relationships with Capitol newcomers.
Brown has also used the dog effectively for elective and legislative missions, pressing Sutter into service as a campaign surrogate around the state in 2012 to help pass Proposition 30, the governor’s package of temporary taxes.
Sutter’s image was used on playing cards the governor distributed to reporters to underscore his budget theme. And Sutter’s been seen often on social media, urging consumers to conserve energy or cut back on water use.
In other words, a marketing masterstroke. Sutter’s celebrity status is of the simple variety—not the high-powered Hollywood style we experienced during the Schwarzenegger years.
Maybe that’s why so many people have fallen under Sutter’s spell—a four-legged goodwill ambassador who showed up by accident, worked for kibble and assumed a role that has reached beyond partisan lines.