At 72, Brown is the new kid on the block

Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, the comeback geezer, is different than Jerry Brown, the thirty-something pol who was first elected governor in 1974 and served two terms.  

For one thing, Brown’s only statewide political experience before then was a single term as secretary of state. For another, he’s married. For a third, he’s repeatedly run for president – including twice while serving as governor – and ran for the U.S. Senate. All were unsuccessful.

His resume gets fatter: He’s been a radio talk show host, the head of the state Democratic Party – a great irony, given that he and the party were never simpatico – and as state attorney general, he currently serves as the state’s top law enforcement officer.

Amazingly, notes the 72-year-old Brown, he’s the fresh new face in Sacramento. At his election night bash in Oakland’s beautifully restored Fox Theater, Brown compared the governor’s office to the old building, noting that it’s been vacant for years but is now ready for action.

And the quirky, aggressive, ambitious, restless Brown says the job and tough times demand plain speaking.

“I want everyone in California to know we might, and we will, have tough times, but if we all pull together and if we operate with honesty, transparency, tell it like it is, and level with you, we can meet the challenges ahead,” he said at his victory party.

Beyond the rhetoric, few in Sacramento are aware of his specific plans for his transition. At least one lobbyist has been heard saying he’ll be the head of the transition team – he won’t – and at least one former lawmaker has said he’ll be the new Finance Department director (he won’t).

At the top of his list for chief of staff is James Humes, considered a Brown loyalist and Brown’s current chief deputy attorney general. Another possibility: J. Clark Kelso, a long-time Sacramento trouble shooter, as the new director of the state prison system. Kelso currently serves as the federally appointed receiver with authority over prison health care.
But Brown has a penchant for reaching across party lines for top people – a habit that angered both major parties during his governorship and left many of his fellow Democrats especially unhappy when he became party chair.

One thing is likely: His most influential adviser and the most important person in his administration will be his wife, Anne Gust, a corporate lawyer who has played a pivotal role in his handling of the attorney general’s office and in his gubernatorial campaign.

On Tuesday night, Brown was elected governor of California for the third time, an unprecedented victory that capped the nation’s most expensive gubernatorial race in which his billionaire rival Meg Whitman outspent him better than 6-to-1.

What goes around comes around in politics: The victory was especially sweet for Brown. By vanquishing Whitman, Brown also beat Whitman’s titular campaign chairman Pete Wilson, Brown’s old nemesis who overwhelming defeated him in his bid for the U.S. Senate.

“It looks like I’m going back again,” Brown said. “As you know, I’ve got the know-how and the experience. This time, we have a first lady, which we didn’t have last time,” he told the L.A. Times.

In picking Brown, a professional politician to his fingertips, California voters clearly bucked a national trend: They favored experienced Democratic pols for statewide office and were turning back pro-business attempts to weaken the state’s greenhouse gas law.

In the end, more than $161 million in spending by Whitman’s campaign – including $141 million from her own pocket – could not lure voters to her side. Her negatives remained high, fueled by her spotty voting record and her firing of an illegal immigrant housekeeper, and the former eBay chief appeared scripted and inexperienced – exactly how Brown wanted to define her.

Brown, who was first elected at the age of 36, won as much by the miscues of his opponent as by any grand strategy of his own campaign. But in the end, it was more than enough: He saved his money until the end, deftly tapped the resources of organized labor, belittled her political chops and nearly matched her in TV ads during the critical, final three weeks of the campaign.

The price tag for the governor’s race, including the primary election, hovered around $280 million: Direct campaign spending reached nearly $250 million, while spending by groups not affiliated with Brown or Whitman, the so-called independent expenditure committees, added another $28.4 million, the Fair Political Practices Commission said.

The anti-incumbency rage that animated voters across the country proved anemic in the races for California’s two top political offices.

Not only did Brown, whose career in government spans four decades, win with ease, so did Boxer, often described as the Senate’s most liberal Democrat. She thrashed former HP chief Carly Fiorina, 52 percent to 42 percent, to capture a fourth term. Brown  beat Whitman 54 percent to 41 percent.

Whitman stumbled badly early on when she acknowledged that she hadn’t voted for 28 years, then was battered again by the disclosure that she had employed an illegal immigrant housekeeper and fired her after nine years – just when Whitman was cranking up her campaign for governor.

With their performances in three statewide debates largely inconclusive, the coup de gras for Whitman’s campaign occurred in Long Beach at a women’s conference. There, Whitman – unlike Brown – declined to remover her negative campaign ads from the air and drew boos from many of the 14,000 women in the audience.

The image of a top woman candidate being booed at a women’s conference resonated in the governor’s race, spurred on the Brown campaign, which hastily crafted a TV ad targeting the incident.

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