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Brown: Insider’s Outsider … or Outsider’s Insider?

Mar3

Jerry Brown cast himself as the candidate with “insider’s knowledge but an outsider’s mind” in formally launching his campaign for governor Tuesday, seeking to balance and merge conflicting political messages of experience and change.

With a simple, energetic and straight-to-the-camera delivery, Brown argued in a three-minute 17-second video, posted on his web site,  Facebook and You Tube, that he has the preparation, knowledge and consummate understanding of how government and politics work to break the partisan gridlock in Sacramento and “get California working again.”

In positioning himself as the candidate of practical experience, Brown contrasted himself by implication, not only with Republican challengers Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, but also with incumbent Arnold Schwarzenegger, arguing that California has proved that electing “an outsider who knows virtually nothing about state government” doesn’t work “What we need,” he said, taking aim at his highly-funded and tightly-managed opponents, “is not a scripted plan cooked up by consultants or mere ambition to be governor . .. . We can get through this crisis leaner and more efficient, poised for a comeback that will lead to a whole new period of prosperity . . . but it’s not going to happen overnight or with empty promises or photo ops.”

Brown, who spoke without notes or a teleprompter, obliquely addressed concerns that throughout his career — as secretary of state, governor, mayor and attorney general — he has appeared at times to leap from one cause to another, with the attention span of a gnat. “At this stage in my life,” said the 71-year-old Democrat, “I’m prepared to focus on nothing else, but fixing this state I love.”

The spare, almost ascetic, announcement of candidacy (with no mention of his political party) was an effort to make virtues of what are perceived as his greatest vulnerabilities in the race – his age and his four-decade record in politics. He offered no soaring rhetoric about the future, but focused instead on the need for gritty work in overcoming a chronic and crippling budget deficit and repairing the broken structure of a state government viewed as the most dysfunctional in the nation.

Where Whitman is selling corporate competence and Poizner is selling ideological conservatism, Brown is selling authenticity, experience and knowledge. The strongest point in his video was when he offered three straightforward governing principles “that will guide me and that you can count on.”

– First, I’ll tell you the truth. No more smoke and mirrors on the budget. No more puffy slogans and platitudes. You deserve the truth and that’s what you’ll get from me.

– Second, in this time of recession when people are financially strapped, there will be no new taxes unless you the people vote for them.

– Third, we have to downsize state government from Sacramento and return decisions and authority to the cities, to the counties and to local schools.

Positioning himself as the candidate of experience is in some ways a risky gambit, at a time of Tea Party anger and disenchantment with career politicians and the political status quo. In the December statewide poll by the Public Policy Institute of California*, for example, voters were divided evenly on whether they prefer experience in office or experience in business when selecting candidates for governor or senator. Democrats, liberals and moderates preferred experience in office while Republicans, conservatives and independents preferred experience in business.

But Brown sought to portray the twin specter of the novice billionaire Whitman and a consultant-driven Poizner as even riskier. By implication, he suggested that while he has insider’s experience but an outsider’s approach, they would be pre-packaged, know-nothing outsiders. California already knows, he said, that “not knowing is not good.”

There was no hint of the populist, anti-corporate rhetoric that Brown has wielded at various times in his career, as recently as last year’s California Democratic Party convention. The change Brown offered in his opening salvo – making California “the leader in renewable energy, good jobs and quality schools”—sounded as if he was  channeling his inner Warren G. Harding, who, in 1920, advocated a “return to normalcy.”

It was essentially a conservative Jerry Brown, speaking directly to the camera, pledging to pull together “Republicans and Democrats, oil companies and environmentalists, unions and businesses.”

The response from the Armies of eMeg:

I welcome Jerry Brown to the race and look forward to an important conversation with Californians. Never before have voters had a bigger choice about the future. I have spent my career in the private sector, creating jobs and delivering results. Jerry Brown has had a 40-year career in politics which has resulted in a trail of failed experiments, undelivered promises, big government spending and higher taxes. I look forward to the coming campaign debate over which path California will choose in the future; repeating the mistakes of the past or working together to build A New California with more jobs, less wasteful spending and greatly improved schools.

And from The Commish:

This election will be about the future of California, not the past. Our state needs bold, new conservative solutions that will jumpstart our economy and bring jobs back to California. We cannot fall prey to the same high-tax policies and special interest-run government that has led our state into a fiscal disaster. The next Governor will need specific economic solutions, like my plan for across-the-board tax cuts, and also be willing to stand up to the powerful unions who control Sacramento.

Game on.

Crusty potpourri: About Brown not mentioning that he’s a Democrat? “I suppose we take it for granted that people know that,” said spokesman Sterling Clifford (or as we like to call him, Clifford Sterling). “It’s not like he just registered as a Democrat three years ago or something.”

Actually, since he’s got the Democratic Party nomination in the bag, he has every reason to play down party and seek independent and moderate GOP votes. Brown underscored that point in an interview with Larry King Tuesday evening in which he said he’d welcome President Obama’s support but that he would be running “an independent campaign.”

He denied that he’s separating himself from his party, but, he added, “I’m separating myself from politics as usual.” That certainly would be true in the case in the nuttiest remark Brown made all day — his suggestion that to solve the budget crisis he’d sit all 120 members of the Legislature in a room until they came up with a compromise. Good luck with that.

And for those wondering about Brown’s reputation as a liberal, check out the clips posted on California Majority Report by Richard Stapler.

*Fun with numbers: The contrast between Brown’s positioning as the candidate of political experience and GOP front-runner Whitman’s strong focus on her business-side C.V. offers an intriguing glimpse of voter attitudes, at a time when the public despises career pols and career CEOs alike.

A Public Policy Institute of California poll published in December sought to measure sentiment on the issue by asking voters what was more important to them: experience in elected office or experience running a business.

Perhaps auguring a close election, 43 percent of respondents said elective experience, and 43 percent picked business. Not surprisingly Democrats would overwhelmingly favor a veteran of politics over one from the business world, by a 60-to-26 percent margin, the mirror image of Republicans, who picked private sector experience 61-to-27 percent.

As for Independents, they said experience running a business was more important than experience serving in office, by a 50-to-32 percent margin. As on so many other issues, it appears, indie voters represent a key battleground on which the fall election will be fought.


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