No More Governor Moonbeam

If he’s elected governor again, Jerry Brown says, don’t expect the old Governor Moonbeam.

“I might not be as interesting,” the Democratic gubernatorial nominee told an editorial board of the Los Angeles Daily News Friday, referring to how he has changed since his days as governor from 1974 to 1982.

Brown, 72, said his maturity and his political sojourn of the last 28 years have given him “patience and maybe a little better common sense” than he showed during his initial tenure as governor.

Jerry Brown, circa 1976

“When I came in, I was 36 years of age, and I brought in a lot of advocates, people who had been suing the government, and I thought we were going to change everything,” he said. “Well, I realized you don’t change things that fast.”

Voters retaliated at the polls by defeating him in his bid for the U.S. Senate in 1982 and then in 1986 ousting three of his state Supreme Court appointees, including Chief Justice Rose Bird, over the death penalty, which the justices opposed.

“It was a little too active,” Brown said about those appointments. “I would say what you have to learn is incremental change. I worked with the court, and I always thought it was a quiet, pretty slow-moving institution.

“But what I really found out is that courts are slow moving. They’re not democratic. And their job is to shape the law gradually over time, so that was a little bit too much excitement for the Supreme Court.”

Although he defended the appointments as “good decisions,” Brown nevertheless promised to make different kinds of selections not only to the courts but throughout a new administration.

“What I’ve learned, certainly I would be very careful,” he said. “I’m looking not for advocates but for managers, thoughtful people, and we’re not going to create a lot of brush fires that detract me from what I’m trying to do. So, yeah, I would be more cautious.”

But Brown left no doubt that he remains the erstwhile visionary about how to cure California’s economic ills.

“My vision is to create an electric car industry in California … and have it fueled, not by oil from the Middle East or Nigeria or Venezuela but California sun, California wind, California geo-thermal,” he said, suggesting that shuttered automobile plants in the state could be producing alternative fuel cars in the future.

“I think that renewable energy could be like aerospace of 20 years ago, 30 years ago.”

In an almost hour and a half meeting in which he made allusions to Machiavelli, obscure California political figures, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Tesla electric car and the iPad, Brown offered himself as the savior to California’s problems because of his experience as governor and more recently mayor of Oakland and now the state’s attorney general.

“Since I’ve lived in this state all my life, I think I’m the one to do it,” he said. “It’s our best hope.”

Critics, though, say that those remarks are similar to the hubris that Brown exhibited while governor – and which led to his downfall among voters in his failed 1982 U.S. Senate bid.

“He was very sure of himself even when he was being unorthodox – and he was pretty unorthodox,” said Raphael Sonensheim, political science professor at California State University, Fullerton. “I think he’s more orthodox now than he was then, although he’s still a bit of a walk on the wild side.”

With Sacramento having taken record time to pass a state budget, Brown said the issue would be his top priority – and he would begin tackling it immediately if elected on Nov. 2.

Brown said he has already had talks with Republican legislators about the next budget and believes he now has the skills and knowledge to become a bipartisan consensus-builder.

“I see the problem in Sacramento as getting these parties which don’t talk to one another to act as human beings to work on what’s needed,” he said. “Then we’ve got to take it on the road, come to L.A., come to San Diego and have a great civic engagement on the refounding of California.”

Brown said he would build bipartisanship in Sacramento by using examples of his father, former Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown – “more socializing in the evenings with the families, certainly I saw that when my father was governor” – and by calling on what he learned as a young man.

“When I was studying to be a priest as a Jesuit, they told us when you’re trying to convert somebody, you go in their front door but you take them out your own,” he said. “What that means is that you let each person be fully heard as to how they want it to happen. And then, if you can demonstrate, not by argument but by demonstration, that it doesn’t work, then people will have to adjust.”

It is that vast experience of 40 years in government, he said, that set him apart from Republican opponent Meg Whitman, whom he said lacks the understanding of how government works and has proposed regulatory cuts that he suggested were politically impossible.

“I have a sense of how all these things came to be,” he said. “I can see where the openings are for change based on the circumstances. So I think I have a very realistic, nuanced understanding of the regulatory process, the legal process, the political process and also the business cycle …”

Voters, Brown said, understand that, citing his own recent surveys and a new poll.

On Friday, a Rasmussen Reports poll showed Brown ahead of Whitman among likely voters, 50 percent to 44 percent, with a 4-percentage-point margin of error. It is the first public poll since the controversies caused by the revelations that Whitman had employed an illegal immigrant as her housekeeper for nine years and the voice-mail recording of a Brown aide calling his opponent a “whore.”

Whitman declined invitations to meet with the Daily News editorial board.

Brown, who appeared later Friday at a UCLA rally with former President Bill Clinton, also acknowledged that he has been lucky throughout this election year. His potential primary opponents – San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and then-Lt. Gov. John Garamendi – dropped out of the race early. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein chose not to seek the office. Whitman, meanwhile, faced a costly primary against Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

“If Meg Whitman hadn’t had a primary and I had a primary where I had to spend all my money, this might be a very different election,” he said. “A lot of elections are a certain amount of luck. Machiavelli said you need fortune – fortuna – and you need arte, which is skill or virtue. So you have skill and you have luck.

“When I ran for governor the first time, Ford gave a pardon to Nixon, and that really hurt the Republican side, and I won by 2.7 percent. Had there not been a Ford pardon, maybe … I wouldn’t be here today.”