News

Gov. Brown, departing, eyes future

California Gov. Jerry Brown takes questions from reporters and others at a meeting of the Sacramento Press Club. (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

California’s longest-serving governor will turn things over to incoming Gavin Newsom on Jan. 7, but during a recent public appearance Jerry Brown bathed in the upside of politics.

Brown got a standing ovation from a capacity crowd at the Sacramento Press Club when he walked into the ballroom of the downtown Masonic Temple, (10 minutes late, to nobody’s surprise) and he got another one when he left a little more than an hour later.

“I like sparring with the press, I like raising money, I like attacking my opponents, I like being attacked by my opponents.” — Jerry Brown

Los Angeles Times political columnist Gorge Skelton and Brown family biographer Miriam Pawel asked the requisite questions during the Dec. 18 Press Club session, and Brown, answering, wandered around California’s political landscape dispensing observations on everything from press conferences to political attacks.  (Skelton and Brown’s acquaintanceship – no one would call it a friendship — goes back more than 40 years.)

Some Brown thoughts:

–District Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling earlier this month to strike down Obamacare might very well produce “such a backlash that the Democrats will not only take over the Senate, they’ll win the presidency … I think the decision will probably be overturned.”

–Be careful about press conferences. “One thing I learned was not have an open-ended press conference every week,” because you can wind up contradicting yourself, and reporters will call you on it. “It’s hard to be consistent in the face of an ever-complex, ever-unfolding story … I don’t hold a press conference unless I have a point.” Brown did not mention President Donald Trump by name.

–Californians with presidential ambitions face a logistical hurdle. There are states with earlier primaries, and politicians on the East Coast have a three-hour jump on the news cycle. “It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult.” Richard Nixon moved to New York to launch a presidential bid.

On being mayor of Oakland for eight years: “People show up to city hall and argue for the stupidest things in the name of all good things.” — Jerry Brown

At least part of that advantage may be erased in the 2020 contest, however,  because California has moved its 2020 state primary to March 3, which means California voters will begin mailing in ballots in February. It should be noted that New Hampshire, alarmed at California’s move to an earlier primary, is considering moving its own primary election — now in February and the first in the nation — to December 2019.

–Politics is enjoyable. “I like sparring with the press, I like raising money, I like attacking my opponents, I like being attacked by my opponents.” Well, that’s what he said.

–A major part of politics, campaigning, “is exciting. It’s a group activity. Lots going on. Don’t minimize its openness. If you can write a press release, put up signs, move boxes,” you’ll be welcomed.

–Creating a reputation as a tightwad was a good idea. “The idea that you’re going to make people happy and build a lot of support by doing a lot of stuff, frankly, it turns out that there’s a downside. The more that you do, the more that people are empowered to demand that you do even more.”

–On being mayor of Oakland for eight years: “People show up to city hall and argue for the stupidest things in the name of all good things.”

–Would he, as a longtime opponent of the death penalty, commute the sentences of the 739 people on California’s Death Row? “If I said something, that would give you a story … I’m not here to make news, I’m here to enlighten.”

Some, noting Brown’s out-front lobbying for recognition of climate change, predict that he will also tour the world advocating for environmental causes

–How about his cherished high-speed rail project? “We’re gonna get it built.” Same with his equally cherished twin tunnels water-moving plan through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

–He learned from his father, Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, that “the Legislature is much more loyal to the speaker than to the governor.” The senior Brown waged war for years against fellow Democrat Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh, the late speaker of the Assembly.

–He also learned from his father that “what works in one campaign doesn’t necessarily work in the next one … Everything is timing.”

When he was elected governor in 1974, at age 36, he was the youngest in the nation and the sixth-youngest governor in California history. When he was elected in 2010, at age 73, he was the oldest governor. Brown is now 80 and will turn 81 in April. Most observers believe he will move up to his ranch in Colusa County, where, he says, the residents are individually friendly even though it’s a deep-red area.

But others, noting Brown’s out-front lobbying for recognition of climate change, predict that he will also tour the world advocating for environmental causes and becoming the de facto United States environmental spokesperson, absent any activity along those lines from the Trump administration.

In any case, after serving on a community college board for 18 months, as California secretary of state for four years, as mayor of Oakland for eight years, attorney general for four years and as governor for 16 years – a total of nearly 34 years in publicly elected office, plus three years as state Democratic Party chair, three tries for the presidency and one for the U. S. Senate. — it seems unlikely that Brown will be content as a rancher riding off in the sunset.

In fact, Brown retains $15 million in his campaign account — money that he can spend on political campaigns.

“This is a way just to stay somewhat involved – keep my fingers a little bit on the rudder guiding the ship of state.” he said, noting that “people are always going to the ballot for one thing or another.”


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: