By Gerald Hill, Index-Tribune Historian
January 15, 2011
From the time two years ago when Jerry Brown told us that he was going to run for Governor again, I was sure he would win.
My first contact with him was in the summer of 1967 when Jerry telephoned me at my office in San Francisco, because I was chairman of a planned convention of California Democratic club members to create a primary challenge to President Lyndon Johnson if he did not take steps toward a peace settlement in Vietnam, urged by Senators William Fulbright, Bobby Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy and others. “How do I get involved?” Brown asked.
I told him he should get elected as a delegate from a local Democratic club which he did. He made his maiden speech at the convention in Long Beach in September and was easily nominated as a potential delegate for what eventually became the campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy.
I was delighted to have Edmund G. Brown, Jr., son of a popular ex-Governor, involved and named him southern California vice chairman. But when we flew to a western states Democratic conference in Phoenix, to my disappointment, he insisted on being called “Jerry Brown” on his badge, as he did later as an alternate delegate to the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Senator McCarthy liked Jerry because he could speak Latin, both having been youthful seminarians. It was symptomatic of Brown’s eclectic curiosity that he majored in “classics” at U.C. Berkeley, and resided in International House, before moving on to Yale Law School.
When a community college district was created for Los Angeles County in 1969, Jerry was ready to make a political move, one of 124 candidates for seven Trustee spots. I was the independent chairman of a Los Angeles County endorsing convention which proved a triumph for him. This time running as Edmund G. Brown, Jr., he won the endorsement and the election by wide margins.
When the long-time Secretary of State died leaving only an interim incumbent, at age 33 Jerry ran in 1970 for this low visibility office. Since the position was responsible for election oversight, Jerry became a knowledgeable and visible champion of election law reform, and drafted the California Fair Political Practices Act which he vigorously enforced to the chagrin of legislators and major contributors.
Being young did not slow Jerry down in 1974, facing Assembly Speaker Bob Moretti, Congressman Jerry Waldie, San Francisco Mayor Joe Alioto, and shipping magnet William Matson Roth in the Democratic primary for governor. He asked me to become vice chairman of his campaign, responsible for volunteer organization. At a memorable strategy meeting in a friend’s Berkeley living room, which included Kathleen as Northern California coordinator, I asked Jerry how much money was budgeted for the grass roots operation, and he answered with a “zero” with his fingers–nothing would be diverted from television. He knew that volunteers would work for free. He fooled everyone with huge downtown rallies in Sacramento and Fresno, and tours of places like Chico and Redding.
His paid staff concentrated on a campaign manager for media and strategy, pollsters and underpaid staff of devotees. There was little spending because “it is always done,” and little wasted motion as well. Jerry was always in motion and his early shyness melted away. We first met Maggie Kaplan, who now lives in Sonoma, during her stalwart work on the campaign.
Candidate Brown commissioned a study on women in state government and discrimination against women in business and insurance transactions, written by Kathleen and Herma Hill Kay, Dean of the U. C. Boalt Hall law school, which he used as the basis for increasing female appointments when he became Governor.
By chance we were present when he was notified that in his role as Secretary of State supervising all Notary Publics that President Richard Nixon, already embroiled in the Watergate scandal, had induced his Notary to illegally back-date his signature to gain a tax deduction. . In a lightning-fast reaction within 24 hours Brown had new rules for Notaries drawn up, including enrollment books with consecutive dates, identification requirements, and penalties for violations. Years later when Kathleen was President of the Community Center, Governor Brown’s office was equally swift in processing her request for its designation as an historic place to protect the building from the wrecking ball.
Jerry’s first inauguration in the state capitol was equally efficient for legislators, officials and a relative handful of campaign leaders 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 commercial. It helped that he enjoyed this simpler life style.
To know the Brown family is to realize that there was a vein of deep affection 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 a margin of over 1,300,000 votes, the largest in California history. His budget reduced expenditures in what he called a an “era of limitations,” accumulating a surplus of five billion dollars. His appointments included the largest number of women, Asians, African-Americans, Hispanics and openly gays. 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 Senator John Dunlap, and 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.
Part 2: Jerry Brown’s Comeback: What Makes Him Tick
Except for occasional encounters over the next decade we saw little of Jerry while he tried everything from a radio show to helping Mother Teresa. In 1989 we supported his re-entry into politics by his election as Democratic Party State Chairman, but he seemed bored by the mechanics of politics.
In 1992 Jerry’s sister Cynthia Kelly asked us to help in his latest presidential campaign (Clinton and Tsongas were the other primary candidates), starting with energizing the stalled preparations for a San Francisco rally. We favored him because he was advocating a strong list of reforms both of the party and the nation and were impressed by his maximizing individual campaign contributions at $100. Jerry, always concerned about possible embarrassing failures, kept calling in until he drove up to be greeted by a tremendous ovation at jam-packed Justin Herman Plaza, filled with an estimated 6,000 fans, and later at a rally in Santa Rosa Courthouse Square crammed to capacity and broadcast on C-Span.
The Sixth Congressional District became Brown territory and Kathleen and I were both nominated and elected two of his four delegates in 1992. At the New York national convention we became floor leaders for his large California delegation. Georgia Kelly, now living in Sonoma and founder of the Praxis Peace Institute, was another Brown delegate.
Jerry tried out various public interest pursuits until he surprisingly announced for Mayor of Oakland, winning easily twice. He succeeded in getting voters to adopt a strong mayor system, set up specialized charter schools, and drew investors to revitalize neighborhoods thought to be hopeless. Then four years ago he was elected Attorney General which he employed as a position to fight against big oil, big tobacco, and for consumer rights, all in the public eye. That was when he started informing old friends he was going to run for Governor again.
Jerry was unfazed by the reports of tens of millions being poured into the election hopper by his potential opponent, and national Democratic slippage. While he campaigned little, Jerry spent a minimum amount of money, while concentrating on being Attorney General and earning “free media” by taking action.
He embraced his age as experience and his past as a pleasant memory. The shock of black cowlick was gone, replaced by the traditional Brown family baldness. Jerry always admired forceful women, and now he had at his side his perfect match, Anne Gust, attorney and former chief administrative officer of the Gap Corporation; they married twice, (civilly and in charming St,. Agnes church) on June 18, 2005.
From the nation’s youngest Governor in 1975, to its oldest in 2011, Brown’s victory margin was just over 1,300,000, about the same as in 1978.
Few can claim to really know Jerry Brown, but here are some characteristics to consider:
He is tough, confident, spiritual, and psychologically secure.
He is intrigued by government and how he can make it achieve results.
He can be brutally frank and expects people to follow his lead.
He is not intimidated by anyone either from wealth, public position or intellectual standing.
He speaks to officials, billionaires, geniuses and labor leaders as on an equal footing.
Jerry understands political strategy, but leaves tactics to specialists.
He believes in diversity in gender, ethnicity, and individual rights.
He has a limited desire for personal wealth or possessions.
He loves simple pleasures including the outdoors, nature and beauty.
He is little interested in labels like liberal and conservative.
He is pragmatic, and believes in facing facts as a rational way of attacking challenges.
Jerry has a natural curiosity in almost all fields
He is capable of acting swiftly without being entangled in red tape.
And he enjoys being different within limits.
One Republican strategist told us that he has “high hopes” for Brown as Governor even given the depth of the challenges.
Whether he is right or not, one thing is for sure. It will be interesting.