Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Jerry Brown's Credentials

I moved to California in 1976, a college student only peripherally aware of the politics of the state. Jerry Brown was governor and the coolest thing about him was that he declined the use of the Governor's mansion and limo for a small apartment and his own crappy car both of which he sometimes shared with Linda Rondstadt, a singer still popular with some of us. He did quickly acquire the nickname, "Governor Moonbeam," well earned by his use of platitudes deep of thought that some couldn't quite get.

Jerry Brown was, and is at age 72, a deep thinker. Graduating from a Catholic high school, two years in a local college, and then two years in Jesuit seminary shows us he has considered matters of theology to fair degree. Given that and his life-long record of service I'll say good enough by me as regards what I need to know of a public servant's faith.

California's budget (and really the world economy) was in a shambles in 1976. The oil embargo of '73 had punched us in the gut, Gerald Ford was the interim president, stagflation was the term of the day, and it was as bad as all that sounds. Jerry Brown was a pragmatist in the face of declining state income and still rising costs. In 1975 he managed to remove the "depletion allowance" given oil companies as one aid in solving the budget problems. He also established the first agricultural relations law in the nation, started the California Conservation Corps, enacted the California Coastal Protection Act, halted nuclear power development and made the state the national leader in solar and alternative energy. He also appointed more women and minorities to high government positions than any other governor in California history.

People didn't like hearing straight talk then, and they don't now, but Jerry Brown's direct nature may well show us all just how thin the veneer of Meg Whitman is. More importantly, despite his life of service to the state he is an outsider still. Brazen enough to call his own party for the partisan bickerers they've become, and to tell us all we have some hard decisions to make.

We do. California is in deep doo-doo and there won't be an easy way out. Cuts to services will occur. The question becomes "How deep?"

In retrospect, something most politicians can't stand the light of, Jerry Brown's achievements have been in public service done with humility. Currently the state's attorney general, I look to his two terms as mayor of Oakland as an example of a guy doing a job needing to be done, not one with much celebrity. That is a quality I would like to see in our next governor.