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Jerry Brown in historic role

Jerry Brown, in his third term, is now the longest-serving governor in the history of California. And he’s all but certain to run again.“The actual date he surpassed Gov. (Earl) Warren was Saturday, the 5th of October,” said Brown aide Evan Westrup.

There’s something of an asterisk here, though: Earl Warren did it in consecutive terms. Brown served two back-to-back terms from January 1975 to January 1983, then took office again for four more years in January 2011.

This historical moment is made possible by the fact that Brown’s previous terms, from 1975-1983, were served before term limits, making him the only governor other than Warren to serve three terms.

But in length of service, Brown now holds the record. He pushed ahead of Warren’s 3,925 days and nine hours. What’s more, the 75-year-old Brown appears poised to run in 2014. He has already raised more than $10 million for the campaign, according to financial disclosure reports compiled by the secretary of state.

Despite the influx of cash, he has not made a formal announcement that he intends to run. Perhaps, he doesn’t need to: Most political observers assume he is going to run.

“I think he’s clearly going to run. Absent any health issue, he is going to run and no one will run against him and win,” said Barbara O’Connor, emeritus professor of communications and director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at CSUS.

This historical moment is made possible by the fact that Brown’s previous terms, from 1975-1983, were served before term limits, making him the only governor other than Warren to serve three terms.

He is likely to hold this record for quite a while, since he and George Deukmejian, who will not run again, are the only living governors elected before term limits were in place, although Pete Wilson was elected in 1990, the same year term limits were approved. So from here on, any governor will be limited to two terms unless the law is changed.

“I think he’s the most prepared person for the job, and he’s doing a good job in his third term as governor. All of his experiences have led him to this point, and he’s done remarkable things,” O’Connor noted. Others in the political class and in the media also have given him high marks.

According to Brown’s Twitter feed, his historic moment was celebrated with a cake saying, “3,927 Days And Counting…” with the caption, “That’s a lot of days…” as Gov. Brown’s reaction.

The governor’s office calculated this historical record in an Excel document down to the hour, with a one hour margin used for certainty.

So how does Brown view his landmark passage?

“Experientia docet,” Westrup said over an email, Latin for “Experience teaches.”

“I think he’s the most prepared person for the job, and he’s doing a good job in his third term as governor. All of his experiences have led him to this point, and he’s done remarkable things,” O’Connor noted. Others in the political class and in the media also have given him high marks.

Not everyone is so generous, however – particularly those with long memories and serious policy differences with Brown.

“His legacy is still in play,” said Tom Del Beccaro, former chairman of the California Republican Party. “If you go back to 1978 and granting public unions collective bargaining rights and the like, that act directly has led to the explosion in spending and the pension issue. So that, from my perspective, would be a big negative.”

The positive comments are in sharp contrast to the perception of Brown during his first two terms, when he was viewed as a perpetual presidential candidate, ferociously ambitious, intrigued by perception over reality and disorganized.

His earlier administrations also pushed changes in government that are being felt to this day and have been at the root of the state’s ills, a ranking Republican said.

“His legacy is still in play,” said Tom Del Beccaro, former chairman of the California Republican Party. “If you go back to 1978 and granting public unions collective bargaining rights and the like, that act directly has led to the explosion in spending and the pension issue. So that, from my perspective, would be a big negative.”

“On the other hand,” he added, “I think Brown deserves credit for a level of civility, which is quickly disappearing in American politics. I’m a very strong believer in holding accountable the administration for the tone that the leader sets. If a leader permits things to get out of hand, that’s his fault. You’d have to say Jerry Brown is not like that, does not act that way.”

When compared with other states, Brown’s length of service is more modest. Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa, for example, currently holds the record for longest serving governor, and who is in his fifth non-consecutive term.

Texas, which has no gubernatorial term limits, holds the No. 2 slot with Gov. Rick Perry, who has served since he was sworn in in December of 2000.

Jerry Brown’s California political credentials are solid: His father, Pat, served two terms as governor, and Jerry Brown, born in San Francisco, is also one of only a few governors of California who were actually born in the state.

Instead of seeking a third term, Brown ran for the U.S. Senate in 1982, losing decisively to Pete Wilson. He then took time to visit both Japan and India, studying Buddhism and visiting the Mother Theresa, saying that these trips were to strengthen and better understand his relationship and role in California politics.

Jerry Brown started his political career as a community college trustee in Los Angeles in the 1960s, then became California’s secretary of state in 1971. While there, he not only uncovered falsely notarized documents attempting to get a tax deduction by then-President Nixon, but also pushed to create the Fair Political Practices Commission, California’s political watchdog.

From there, Brown went on to serve his first two terms as governor, establishing his reputation in California as an environmental enthusiast and champion for human rights. When he took office in 1975, Brown was the nation’s second-youngest governor, at 36.

As governor, he espoused then-unconventional policy proposals – private space travel, wind energy, etc. – and inspired the dismissive nickname “Governor Moonbeam” from Chicago columnist Mike Royko, who later apologized.

Instead of seeking a third term, Brown ran for the U.S. Senate in 1982, losing decisively to Pete Wilson. He then took time to visit both Japan and India, studying Buddhism and visiting the Mother Theresa, saying that these trips were to strengthen and better understand his relationship and role in California politics.

Upon his return, Brown became the chair of the California Democratic Party in 1988. Brown, who had run for president twice during his first two terms as governor, ran again in 1992, losing in the primary to Bill Clinton.

He worked a popular talk show for several years and then was elected mayor of Oakland, where he created the Oakland Military Institute and the Oakland School for the Arts – which to this day remain at the top of his charitable donations list — while in office. From there, Brown went on to become the state Attorney General, which lasted until he was elected governor again in 2010, surpassing the record of oldest sitting governor in California when he turned 73 in 2011.

At 75, Brown today remains the nation’s oldest serving governor. Brown is also the only governor for California elected to non-consecutive terms.

In his first two terms, Gov. Brown was known for his minimalist tastes, liberal policies and his relationships with celebrities, such as Linda Ronstadt. When his “Governor Moonbeam” tag, which represented his captivation with outer space, got traction in the media, many saw this nickname as an insult. Brown, however, embraced it as a sign of his individuality and ability to stand out from the rest.

During his latest term, he has played a role in important legislation, including high-speed rail, a ballot initiative to raise taxes and a stable budget. He has also received international praise for his connections to foreign countries, such as traveling to China to address global warming.

“I think he’s mellowed some, but his values have grown into wisdom. He’s less pugnacious, has set goals that he sticks to and is able to make decisions that are not new ones for him, but with more force and power because of his experiences,” said O’Connor, who also serves as member of the AARP national board of directors.

In his first two terms, Gov. Brown was known for his minimalist tastes, liberal policies and his relationships with celebrities, such as Linda Ronstadt. When his “Governor Moonbeam” tag, which represented his captivation with outer space, got traction in the media, many saw this nickname as an insult. Brown, however, embraced it as a sign of his individuality and ability to stand out from the rest.

He slept on a mattress in an apartment on N street, refusing to live in the elaborate governor’s mansion. He drove a blue Plymouth sedan after auctioning off the governor’s showy Cadillac limousine.

Now Brown owns a $1.8 million home in the Oakland hills. When he’s in Sacramento, he stays in a midtown loft rented for him by private donors.

He was married to Anne Gust, a ranking corporate executive, in 2005 by U.S. Sen Dianne Feinstein.

When starting his 2011 term, Gov. Brown even brought with him his dog, Sutter Brown, whom many refer to as “California’s first dog”, and who even has his own Twitter account full of pictures of the corgi “on the job”.

Some things haven’t changed from his first two terms, including his concern with personal fitness. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Brown “an old retread,” Brown challenged him to a fitness contest, clearly sounding confident of his success over the corpulent Christie. In China, Brown was photographed doing chin-ups on a public bus.

He also is still upholding the “open-door” policy which he established in his first few terms, going so far as to install a picnic table in his office.

But that open door is far more show than substance, say numerous reporters, who view the administration as cloistered, uncommunicative, rigid and sealed deep in the governor’s executive office suite – the same office once occupied by Maria Shriver.

Given his current popularity with the public, perhaps keeping the daily press at arm’s length is a good idea.

“I don’t think even Lincoln could have succeeded in today’s world,” Del Beccaro said. “We have overexposure of politicians. To paraphrase the words of Humphrey Bogart, reporters are men and women like any others — only more so. To overexpose politicians is not helpful.”

As for Brown, he’s staying busy.

“He’s completing his legacies,” O’Connor said.

Ed’s Note: Summer ParkerPerry is an intern from the University of California Sacramento Center. She attends classes at UC Santa Cruz.

 


  • shoeless

    The one big flaw in our term limits initiative was that is was not retroactive.
    Pols have been finagling around the law ever since we passed it.
    Its actual intent was that officials serve their terms and then go home, not make a career of hopping from one elected position to another with a few “appointments” in between.
    Jerry’s legacy is largely one of bigger government with collective bargaining, more useless laws and a failure to accomplish the few real duties of the state government: educate our children, pave our roads, encourage business , and control the invasion of illegals.

    What a legacy!

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