Jerry Brown

The Five Faces of Jerry Brown

Will one of them be California's next governor?


Officially, Jerry Brown isn't a candidate in California's budding gubernatorial campaign. Unofficially, he's widely expected to take the Democratic nomination and has a good shot at prevailing in the general election. If he wins, he'll be reclaiming a job he left 28 years before, embarking on yet another chapter in a life that has changed direction more times than a Sarah Palin sentence.

By turns eccentric and ambitious, spacey and shrewd, Brown has shown more faces in the last four decades than any ordinary statesman: a conventional heir to a political dynasty, a hippie-monkish governor with a taste for visionary ideas, a populist insurgent and talk-show host who rubbed shoulders with the radical Left, a nuts-and-bolts mayor of a corroded California city. Whatever his next incarnation might be, it will be rooted somehow in all the other versions that came before it.

The First Face of Jerry Brown

When Jerry Brown entered politics, he wasn't called Jerry Brown. He was Edmund G. Brown Jr., son of a former governor and, as far as the average voter could tell, not so different from dad. At this point, the younger Brown had been through several lives already: a seminary student who stopped short of becoming a priest, a globetrotting seeker who studied abroad, a lawyer who needed two tries to pass the California Bar. But his public life began as Pat Brown's kid, getting elected to the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees in 1969 because he shared his father's name and then becoming California's secretary of state more or less the same way.

The senior Brown was associated with popular programs ranging from the Interstate to the state university system, and he was skilled at working both sides of the aisle. He had made his share of political missteps—Ronald Reagan's right-wing rebellion had blindsided him in 1966—but now he was a revered elder statesman. Voters remembered him fondly enough to cast their ballots for an almost identical name.

In 1974, at age 36, Jerry Brown won the race to replace the retiring Reagan as governor, defeating the Republican nominee Houston Flournoy with a vague campaign that didn't reveal much about Brown's views. In an entertaining tell-all, Jerry Brown: The Man on the White Horse, J.D. Lorenz, a fired Brown aide, quoted his boss bragging about a TV ad on crime: "I sound tougher than Flournoy, and I haven't proposed anything the liberals can criticize me for. In fact, I haven't committed myself to do anything at all." In Mother Jones, Paul Jacobs reported watching the future governor work some potential voters. The candidate didn't invoke space exploration or Buddhist economics. He said, "Hello, I'm Jerry Brown. I'm Pat Brown's son, and I'm running for governor. I hope you'll vote for me."

His unorthodox side was almost completely concealed. In that first gubernatorial campaign, a minor candidate—Elizabeth Keathley of the radical Peace and Freedom Party—promised that if elected, she'd adopt Brown and give him his old room in the governor's mansion back. No one suspected that once in office, Brown would decide to do without a mansion altogether.

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  1. Anyone but Newsome.

    1. Ehh. If Newsome got the Dem nomination he would almost certainly loose the general election. Brown would have a better chance of beating the Republican nominee.

      1. Unlikely. None of the Republicans running for governor are ex-movie stars. In fact, they all suck. Meg Whitman has never run for office before and has in fact barely even voted (although she’s already running radio ads). The last time Tom Campbell ran for state wide office, he lost to DiFi by a whopping 19.5%. Steve Poizner probably has the best chance, I suppose, but he’s still an unknown to most people despite currently being insurance commissioner.

        1. “… [A]n unknown to most people despite currently being insurance commissioner.”

          Are you sure those two things should be contrasted with a “despite”?

  2. I, for one, welcome the suede-denim secret police.

  3. I, for one, welcome the suede-denim secret police.

    How does your uncool niece feel about that?

    1. Her opinion is meaningless; she’s uncool.

      1. Mellow out or you will pay.

  4. Jerry Brown and Tom Campbell would be my picks. Maybe they’ll give peace a chance and run as candidates for co-governor.

  5. Jerry Brown should be governor of California, presiding over its final collapse into a singularity, when all of its financial woes become so massive as to overwhelm the forces holding it together.

    A fingularity, if you will.

  6. Hmm, I see a dual meaning here. Fingularity.

  7. The only thing which concerns me about the likelihood of California’s collapse into a black hole is whether Nevada and Idaho will be able to serve as an effective buffer to protect me.

  8. The only thing which concerns me about the likelihood of California’s collapse into a black hole is that I’m gonna have to pay for it and I live 2,000 miles away.

  9. Comic is back from those days when Trudeau was funny.

  10. All of America will be harmed by California’s collapse into a fingularity. Anyone within the event horizon of this Shaq hole (so named after physicist and ex-Laker Shaquille O’Neal) will be affected by the Shaq hole’s financial devastation.

    See, California is approaching the Schwarzenegger Radius, the boundary where fiscally sound policy can enter but cannot escape and where the mass of California’s bureaucratic ineptitude is such that it will collapse into the fingularity.

  11. Jerry Brown’s 1974 opponent from The Peace & Freedom Party – Elizabeth Keathley – ran an explicitly libertarian campaign, and joined The Libertarian Party in 1975.

    1. Yep. From the brief period when the libertarians took over the California PFP. I tried to get an interview with her for the article but she never got back to me. Apparently these days she’s a musicologist.

  12. Vote for Johnson: The name you know

  13. Look, one night when Jerry and I were doing coke of Rondstat’s tits, Nicolette Larson ran naked into the room and told us Joe Walsh was choking on her butt-plug…
    …what was I talking about?

      got pictures?

  14. Interesting to learn about Brown’s fiscal discipline. Even with all the negatives, he might be the best choice for the state that has a chance of getting elected.

    Also, I suspect that’s the first time, and last time, the Dead Kennedys will ever be quoted in The American Conservative.

  15. Jeff P,

    She has a photo that looks a little like one that Jennifer has used for her blog.

  16. Brown had his shot for eight years in the 70s and early 80s. Too bad term limits were enacted after he left office and so don’t apply to him now. With luck, the voters will enforce the spirit of term limits in his case, anyway.

  17. Yes, well if the state of CA wasn’t in such deep crap then rolling the dice might seem more appropriate.

  18. I stopped reading after this:

    “… a life that has changed direction more times than a Sarah Palin sentence.”

    Maybe that’s true; you provide no link to substantiate. It certainly is not obvious to me. This appears more a gratuitous slap than an apt metaphor.

  19. Jerry is all over the map. As mayor of Oakland he was actually pretty good, but I remember one interview back in the ’80s when he said that the high cost of college tuition was a plot to keep poor minorities out. Ooookaaaay….

  20. Maybe that’s true; you provide no link to substantiate. It certainly is not obvious to me. This appears more a gratuitous slap than an apt metaphor.

    Yeah, Walker. Mellow out or you will pay.

    1. Dear Baked,

      “Mellow out, or else”, is not really my point, or purpose. Sarah Palin, to me, is incredibly articulate, and a principled conservative. Mr. Walker used her as a metaphor for being scatterbrained and inarticulate with no hyperlink to an example.

      Megan McArdle a couple of weeks back said in one of her Atlantic columns (I’m paraphrasing) “I apologize to my readers for not disliking Rush Limbaugh more.”

      Fine. Mr. Walker and Ms. McArdle are certainly entitled to their opinions and writing styles. But in the same NFL season, Michael Vick was reinstated after he knowingly fought, electrocuted, and drowned dogs, while Rush Limbaugh was denied team ownership because he is conservative.

      In my own small way, I am taking a stand at these two bit slaps at conservatives. I have limited reading time; for me, Reason has diminished a bit, Mr. Walker a little bit more.

  21. Kenneth Greenlee:

    It sure is a cheapshot, but not entirely gratuitous; Mr. Walker wants to affirm his bonafides with the “intellectuals” by taking a swipe at Palin.

  22. Megan should first apologize to her readers for voting for Obama, before she goes on the rest of her apology tour …

  23. LOL – If anybody has earned a few “swipes” it’s Simple Sarah. ANYWAY, Brown always seem interesting. First he seems like a left-wing crazy than he watches the budget with the eye of a radical conservative. Actually, rather libertarian. Actually, very libertarian.

  24. He could use a little vampirical garlicking if you ask me.

  25. It was a very nice idea! Just wanna say thank you for the information you have shared. Just continue writing this kind of post. I will be your loyal reader. Thanks again.

  26. Great post, thank you for sharing, look forward to read more of your post,Great!

  27. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane.

  28. Megan should first apologize to her readers for voting for Obama, before she goes on the rest of her apology tour …

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