Understanding Gov. Brown
(page 3 of 3)
Jerry's first inauguration in the state capitol was equally efficient for legislators, officials and a relative handful of campaign leaders who constituted the live audience for a seven-minute speech. He understood the importance of symbolism. To demonstrate his belief in being tight-fisted with public money, he drove a Plymouth out of the state car pool rather than a chauffer-driven gas-guzzler, lived in a simple downtown apartment and flew on commercial airplanes. It helped that he enjoyed this simpler lifestyle.
To know the Brown family is to realize that a vein of deep affection ran among them. Father Pat admired Jerry, sometimes was bemused by him, but was proud of all his children, and recognized Jerry's need to be free to be his own man. The former Governor helped his son without getting in the way by making calls from my law office. His mother, Bernice, presided over the Brown clan with a gentle hand in what she told me was "family hold back." Jerry has benefited from the emotional comfort of three sisters all involved in politics.
Forgotten today is his relatively successful pair of terms as governor, winning re-election in 1978 by more than 1.3 million votes, the largest a margin in California history. His budget reduced expenditures in what he called an "era of limitations" accumulating a surplus of $5 billion.
His appointments included the largest number of women, Asians, African-Americans, Hispanics and openly gays in state history to that point. He took an active interest in the environment, new technology, the arts, pushed a tax incentive for solar power installations, got the oil depletion allowance repealed and successfully backed legislation creating the Agricultural Labor Board carried by then Napa-Sonoma State Sen. John Dunlap, along with the Coastal Protection Act.
Initiative Proposition 13 passed in 1978, freezing assessment rates on property taxes used by school districts and local governments for revenue, protecting owners as appraisals went up.
Although he had opposed the proposition, Brown responded by facing the fact that the state would become a prime source of school funds, and therefore the non-education state budget had to be reduced. This switch in position reflected a realistic facing of facts, a natural recognition of limits and being tough even with one's friends.
Brown entered several Democratic presidential primaries in 1976 and 1980 against Jimmy Carter in quixotic efforts, winning some primaries before losing steam. He was given the meaningless nickname "Governor Moonbeam" by Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko, although some contend it meant he was interested in space-age science, the cyber world and Silicon Valley, all of which was true.
In 1982, he was the Democratic candidate for the open California seat in the U.S. Senate and lost to Pete Wilson in a half-hearted campaign effort.
Next: Jerry Brown's comeback; what makes him tick?