Jerry Brown: “I’m going to be an apostle of common sense”


jerryhandsReflecting on his first incarnation as California governor, Jerry Brown says he was overly concerned with the importance of new ideas and not focused enough on the practicalities of getting things done.

In the first extensive interview about his 2010 gubernatorial bid, Brown told calbuzz that if he wins back, at the age of 72, the office he first captured when he was 36, things will be different.

“Then I emphasized new ideas, now I would emphasize management more,” he told us. “It was very exciting then, but without losing that sense of innovation, I’d be more practical-minded, very detailed, focused on follow through and consensus building . . . I’d be looking for people who are seasoned administrators.”

In a telephone interview last week, Brown said he is motivated to seek a second turn as governor by his own “unspent potential,” a notion he credited to the anthropologist Gregory Bateson: “The key to flexibility is not spending all your potential.”H

Speaking in rushing streams of high-speed sentences, Brown talked of everything from how to attack Sacramento’s partisan dysfunction to the hair products used by Democratic rival Gavin Newsom. Boasting that his two terms as governor were “good years” for California, he rattled off a list of accomplishments, while uncharacteristically acknowledging some shortcomings.

“My sense of management has been refined and developed,” said the man who, as governor, was known to mock and belittle the pathways, processes and procedures of state government and those who work in it.

His candidacy still formally undeclared, Brown only occasionally used the phrase “if I run,” in portraying himself as a master politician whose experience in elected office at every level – mayor, attorney general, state party chairman, to name a few – affords him unmatched understanding of government organization and operations which he would wield at California’s intractable problems.

“I have a greater sense of how things get done and don’t get done,” he said. “I have a much better, hands-on understanding of how (government) functions . . . a sense of how things work . . . a much better sense of sizing people up and how you go about building an administration.”

We wanted to interview Brown to ask his views on seven key questions we posed to all the candidates in one of our first posts. In his own fashion, he addressed most of them. However, Brown staunchly refused to specify what combination of cuts and tax hikes he would support to deal with chronic deficits, beyond stressing his view that California is a “very high tax” state and dismissing as politically impractical the proposal to amend Proposition 13 by taxing commercial and industrial property at higher rates than residential property.

“Anyone who answers that (tax and cuts question) will never have a chance to be governor,” he said. “It’s very hard to discuss with particularity anything that can be turned into (campaign) fodder.”

Moreover, he added, “dictating from the corner office does not work . . . If eliminating the structural problems in the California budget were easy, Wilson, Davis and Schwarzenegger would have done it.”

How would he deal with fiercely ideological legislators on the left and the right?

“I’m going to become an apostle of common sense,” he said. “I will disabuse them of their ill-conceived predilections.”

“There’s an embedded partisanship that has to become disembedded,” he said. “In my bones, I’m not that partisan. I’m an independent thinker. That’s my tradition. I’ve been wary of ideology since I left the Sacred Heart Novitiate (in 1960).”

(Nostalgia footnote: Brown’s reference to “common sense” reminded us that when we covered his 1992 “Winter Soldier” campaign for president, he signed copies of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” at a bookstore in Nashua, New Hampshire.)

We asked Brown this key question: What do you want to do as governor?

He quickly ticked off four key concerns with specific ideas in each area: Renewable energy; prison reform; education reform; water policy (we’ll report details on these in future posts).

He acknowledged that pushing through innovative solutions on these issues would be difficult in the polarized atmosphere of Sacramento. He labeled as “a type of anarchy” the view of some GOP lawmakers that sending the state into bankruptcy is preferable to voting for a budget that includes tax increases.

“That kind of subversive attitude is unacceptable,” Brown said.

Asked about structural reforms, Brown said he doesn’t “think term limits have been helpful” because they create a revolving door mentality, with lawmakers constantly running for the next office.

“People being around 20 years is a problem. But people being around for just six years is a bigger problem,” he said. “They become more dependent on interest groups because they don’t have time to develop loyalty in their districts.”

While not a fan of the two-thirds majority vote needed to pass budgets, Brown said he doesn’t think there is a “mechanical” cure to structural financial problems.

Sounding most unlike an old-school Jerry Brown Democrat, he argued repeatedly that regulations making California less competitive than surrounding states must be challenged. “We have to make sure that regulation does not curtail business,” he said, echoing the Chamber of Commerce more than the Sierra Club.

On the issue of his age, about which Newsom and others (including calbuzz) have needled him – Brown said the question was “meaningless.”

“Is their premise that my opponents think faster than me? Do they want to challenge me to a timed multiple-choice test?”

Informed that he’s older than the ballpoint pen, Brown laughed. “I remember the ballpoint pen,” he said, recalling that when the instrument came out, it was available to students only in blue ink (and it leaked).

The age attack “has no meaning . . . If Feinstein is so old, how come she’s 20 points ahead (in polls listing her as a candidate)?”

“It’s all about creativity . . . The fact that they’re attacking me is a plus, not a minus . . . I don’t know that it’s bad to be associated with Linda Ronstadt and the Beatles.”

As for those behind the line of attack on his septuagenarian status, Brown personally chided Newsom and his strategist Garry South:

“I don’t know whether he’s sniffing his hairspray or what,” the buzz-cut Brown said of South. “Between the hairspray and the gel (favored by Newsom) I think they’re getting a little intoxicated.”

Calbuzz will be posting more from our interview with Jerry Brown in the coming days. We have already posted Republican Tom Campbell’s responses to our seven questions and we hope to be able to offer readers lengthy comments from all the major candidates.

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There are 15 comments for this post

  1. avatar Anonymous says:

    Those peals of laughter you hear are emanating from Garry South’s breakfast table. Jerry, once you lower yourself to attacking the other side’s political consultant, you’ve sealed your fate. By signaling South that you are thin-skinned enough to respond with a playground taunt, you have opened yourself to 13 months of verbal abuse. Call it the “Al Checchi Syndrome.” I supported Jane Harman in ’98 but watching South dissect the thin-skinned Checchi was the highlight of the campaign. Now it’s Jerry and Anne’s turn…

  2. avatar Anonymous says:

    To Anonymous #1:

    Yes, Jerry should not spend a lot of time criticizing Newsom or South. But to throw a funny jab now and then demonstrates a sense of humor and a willingness to mix it up. I like that in a candidate. Unlike say Mike Dukakis circa 1988 who showed no humor or ability to punch back.

    But the caution against regularly getting into the gutter with South is a good one.

  3. avatar Roberts and Trounstine says:

    Because of some technical difficulties with Blogger, we’re posting this note from Garry South, who was unable to post it under his own name.

    I would give Jerry Brown the same free advice I gave Al Checchi in 1998 (which he ignored, to his ultimate demise): Never get involved in a pissing match with another candidate’s consultant — it just diminishes you, and encourages him.
    — Garry South

  4. avatar Anonymous says:

    It’s a two-way street. While candidates should generally avoid rolling around in the mud with the consultants, consultants can get burned in these exchanges as well. Who can forget the monumental mistake South made arrogantly attacking Dianne Feinstein at the end of the 2006 primary, when she protested the lake tahoe spot?

  5. avatar Anonymous says:

    The “monumental” mistakes were Feinstein’s alone — first for having endorsed Angelides and then for involving herself directly in the race. South simply responded to Feinstein’s attack on his candidate by pointing out what every reporter already knew: that Feinstein didn’t know what she was talking about.

    Only when it comes to her highness, Queen Feinstein, would such criticism be labeled as “arrogant.” South didn’t choose to inject a U.S. Senator into a Gubernatorial primary, it was Diane’s personal decision to enter the fray to try and prop up the thoroughly inept Angelides. Once she started criticizing a fellow Democrat she invited the criticism she received.

    Campaigns are a rough and tumble place. No one knows that better than DiFi, who having lost or barely survived every competitive election in her career, should think twice before wading into other people’s fights.

    “Who can forget” how the indignant legions of Angelides-can-win die-hards during the ’06 primary, became a gaggle of despondent, whining, toothless cry-babies from almost the first day of the general election. Schwarzenegger rolled over the big-eared, spineless, taxaholic wimp like a bug under the tire of his SUV.

    The real lesson of 2006 campaign would appear to be don’t listen to Diane Feinstein.

  6. avatar Bill Bradley says:

    The Browns handled similar South-styled attacks exactly the same way in 2006 when they were tried by Rocky Delgadillo.

  7. avatar Anonymous says:

    “Exactly the same way,” Bill? Meaning they made snide personal comments about Rocky’s political consultant? When you’re done figuring out Meg Whitman’s stance on Prop 8, you may want to research the 2006 election a bit more.

  8. avatar Chart says:

    Are Gavin Newsome and Garry South really so insecure that they cannot take a joke? South is so narcissistic that he left out Newsome in his response to Jerry’s joke. And for this he gets $20,000 a month? Jerry was just making a lighthearted off hand remark and defending himself against these pointless attacks on his age.

    It was a comment about HAIR PRODUCTS for crying out loud. I don’t know how any individual (pre-schoolers and kindergartners excluded) who would consider this the start of a “pissing contest”. And even if it is, California needs tough people in office to deal with the very serious issues the state faces. It does not need people who cry when someone spills their milk or calls them a bad name.

    Even worse, South is being overtly hypocritical. They were the ones who attacked Jerry first by going after his age. Jerry’s response was to laugh it off with a joke. Apparently South has no sense of humor.

    Besides, if Garry South is such a great innovative campaign strategist, he should at least be able to post his own comments on an internet blog! Why anyone would pay this man $20,000 a month is beyond me.

  9. avatar Bill Bradley says:

    Oh, I am quite familiar with Meg Whitman's positions on everything. I have hours of film on her, as you should know, and a definitive column, which I advise you to read.

    The inability to post rapidly and accurately on this site is a function of this site's technical limitations, as I am sure you can gather if you are willing to think about it for five seconds and brave enough to emerge from behind a probably high-paid anonymity.

    If you want to take this up with me at New West Notes, there will be no technical limitations to the discussion, I can assure you … 🙂

    >Anonymous said…
    "Exactly the same way," Bill? Meaning they made snide personal comments about Rocky's political consultant? When you're done figuring out Meg Whitman's stance on Prop 8, you may want to research the 2006 election a bit more.

    April 13, 2009 2:23 PM

  10. avatar Bill Bradley says:

    … Oh, and Anonymous, whomever you may be, I covered every day of the 2006 AG race in real time.

    Step out from behind your veil here, or, better yet, come over to NWN, where your veil will be removed for you, and you will see what you will see.

  11. avatar Roberts and Trounstine says:

    Bill – what’s the link to your Whitman piece ?

  12. avatar Anonymous says:

    Will the CA Attorney General support "The Gang of 13" of VA West LA homeless outreach workers [all of whom are Vietnam War veterans!] who started receiving no pay in January, 2009 – without prior notice, nor explanation, nor any severance pay. VA did not file required quarterly earnings statements. NO overtime pay paid, nor any vacation time. ALl violations of federal laws. US Labor Secretary Solis reported [in this week's Pulitzer Prize winning "Las Vegas Sun"] that her single biggest problem in office, so far = Has been inadequate numbers of inspectors to enforce Federal Wage & Hour Laws. Where the Feds can't or won't tread, will the CA A-G do the right thing? Let's hope so!

  13. avatar Anonymous says:

    Wasn’t Garry South, along with people eater Lynn Schenk the co-captain of the USS Graytanic? The horse race will be a good one; just let the horses run and keep others from running their mouths and putting hooves into them.

  14. avatar Roberts and Trounstine says:

    Garry South was the consultant who guided Gray Davis to victory in 1998 and 2002. He never worked in the Davis administration but remained Davis’s most important political adviser. Lynn Schenk was Davis’s chief of staff.

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