Dear Big Daddy,
Is Jerry Brown a pre-term limits super-predator who has been thawed out in a modern era where no one knows how to handle him? Are our legislators dim-witted but tasty flightless birds who evolved with no predators? I could go on, but you get the idea.
–Darwinist in Delano
Dear Darwinist –
Darwin’s natural selection applies to California’s Capitol, but only so far. There are lots of things going on here driving politics that are beyond the control of anybody in the building, including the governor. Term limits and fiscal handcuffs immediately come to mind. There are probably others that never got to the Galapagos.
But it is true that Brown appears to be the only adult at the party.
This is nothing short of amazing, given that his last sojourn through the governor’s office seemed like a whirl of quirky ideas, tavern visits, jogs at the CHP academy and rock-star dating. Much of this was the result of media stereotyping – I know all about media stereotyping – but it did have a kernel of truth.
He did have a quirky bent – but you would, too, if you studied for the priesthood and gave it all up to enter politics. If he stayed a priest, he might be pope now. Pope Jerry the 1st?
And he was young: He was elected governor at 36 years of age. Too young to be a leader of lawmakers of whatever party unless you instill fear in them. He didn’t, although he drew a lot of anger.
But three decades later, Brown hasn’t changed much but the lawmakers have. And that’s part of the the difference: Brown is older and wiser and the lawmakers are younger and less experienced. He also looks like he never forgets his car keys – a true accomplishment for a 72-year-old – and a good memory is a blessing to any good politician.
Nobody’s left serving in the Legislature who was there when Brown was governor the first time around except GOP Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, a former Senate Republican leader.
At a budget conference committee hearing, the two veterans – one bald, the other gray – traded war stories, and Brown recalled trashing one of Nielsen’s bills and Nielsen said he understood. That’s collegiality rare in the Capitol these days.
As a politician, Brown adapted to his environment – uh oh, Darwin again.
Some call that finger in the wind, but I call it smart. It’s hard to bend with the prevailing tide. When I tried it, I got swamped. But Brown moved faster and got elected governor three times. In between, he read a lot of Conrad and Melville.
He even turned into a born-again tax cutter overnight.
He might want to remind people of that as lawmakers ponder his budget.