When Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown, Jr. was running for Governor of California last fall, he accused his Republican opponent, Houston Flournoy, of wanting to "recycle Reaganism." Most people assumed that this slogan meant that Brown was attacking the fiscal conservatism of Reagan and Flournoy. As it turns out, Brown may have been attacking the spendthrift policies of the great conservative leader. For it seems that Brown, the liberals' promising young man from California, in his first year in office has proposed a smaller budget increase than Reagan proposed in any of his eight years as Governor. And the liberals are up in arms.
When Reagan ran for Governor, he promised a quarter-billion dollar cut in his first year budget. During his first year, the budget increased from $4.6 billion to $5.7 billion, a 24 percent increase from the previous year. During the eight years of Governor Reagan, the average yearly increase in the budget was 12.2 percent, leaving the state with a monstrous budget of $10.8 billion when he left office. Yet, Jerry Brown's proposed budget for fiscal 1976 calls for $11.3 billion, an increase of 4.6 percent, far less than the annual inflation rate.
Brown is saying that government spending must be reduced in order to deal with our current economic crises. He is saying that everyone is going to have to make sacrifices in regards to receiving government services. While virtually every school district in the state is screaming for more money (due to a partial equalization of state school financing) Brown has promised to veto any additional state aid to education. While more and more people are applying for welfare, Brown has opposed any additional state money for welfare. While the liberals are calling for state funds for rapid transit, Brown is saying that government-run rapid transit programs are impractical. Brown declares that "the liberalism of the 60's is dead," and "the fact that there's a problem doesn't mean that more government will make it better. It might make it worse. The interventionism that we've seen in our society is analogous to Vietnam. With our money, power, and genius, we thought that we could make the people over there be like us. Then we did the same thing to our cities. When problems don't go away, we escalate the attack until someone gives up. I'm rethinking some of that escalatory social interventionism. Inaction may be the highest form of action."
Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, says that too much government is bad for people. "I think you've got to focus on individual accountability," says Brown, "You just can't get everything without pain and suffering or without having to pay a price…there is no such thing as a free ride anymore." Concurrent with this view, he has questioned no-fault auto insurance, saying that it erodes individual responsibility.
Brown has been busy in his first few months as Governor trying to cut down bureaucratic spending and eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic departments. He is trying to get higher level bureaucrats to take salary cuts and give up some of their government freebies. He even stopped the practice of giving free attache cases to state employees. Brown himself is making sacrifices by departing from the elaborate lifestyle of past governors. He refuses to live in the new Governor's mansion which was built by Reagan. Instead, he lives in a $250 a month apartment in Sacramento, and pays the rent out of his own pocket. The limousines which Reagan had used to travel in style around the state have been sold and the Cessna jet that Reagan had used lies idle. Brown, instead, flies commercial and rides in a 1974 Plymouth.
Brown seems concerned about the excesses of Federal spending as well. Recently, he strongly criticized the Federally-funded Office of Criminal Justice Planning and threatened to send the money back to the Federal Government to help lower the massive Federal deficit, unless someone could show him that OCJP was not just another useless bureaucratic department.
Not surprisingly, Brown is receiving praise from several conservative leaders and organizations. But the liberals don't know what to do. Several Democratic legislators have openly attacked Brown's fiscal policies, but the bulk of the liberal leadership is still waiting and trying to figure out what he is up to. He's pretty liberal on most civil liberties issues, which tends to confuse the liberal rank-and-file even more. The new state President of the California Democratic Council (the party's liberal wing), Wallace Albertson, admitted that Brown did seem an "awful lot like Reagan," but that she still supports him because "he must know what he's doing." If Brown keeps this up, however, he may soon face a full-force confrontation with the overwhelmingly-Democratic state legislature. And Brown is stubborn; he may be less willing to compromise than Reagan was. He has already started major battles over money with the University of California Regents and the State College Trustees.
One thing is sure. Jerry Brown is moving in the right direction. He supports many statist measures, but he is still more libertarian than the average politician, and much more than any recent Governor of California. He is more fiscally conservative than many so-called conservative leaders, and yet is a good liberal on civil liberties questions. One thing that Brown has learned from politics that can be a lesson for everyone is his analysis of government: "Government isn't a religion. It shouldn't be treated as such. It's not God, it's humans, fallible people, feathering their nests most of the time." Let us hope that the people of California can learn something from the maverick Governor.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "California's Other Governor".