Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Grass Roots With the `New, Old' Jerry Brown

(Page 2 of 2)

But beyond the well-crafted sound bites, populist persona, and platform platitudes (see related story left) people are asking what Brown can deliver. To find out, they are beginning to examine his record as governor.

Skip to next paragraph

"The long-term look at Jerry Brown's record here is that he was big on ideas, vision, philosophy, and a ... campaigner," notes Larry Berg, director of the University of Southern California Institute of Government and Politics. "But he was light on administration and implementation and the nitty-gritty of getting things done."

His accomplishments in the plus column are:

* The country's first state energy commission which blocked construction of nuclear power plants and is still a leading promoter of alternative, renewable fuels.

* An aggressive state resources board which promoted a pro-environment agenda in water, waste, and air pollution.

* A national precedent-setting, agriculture/labor relations act which gave farm workers organizing and bargaining rights.

* New state programs for recycling, and toxic material monitoring.

Brown also championed civil and workers' rights while appointing more women and minorities to high office (49 percent of nearly 7,500 appointments) than any governor in state history.

On the negative side the tally reads:

* A strict climate of environmental regulatory compliance which began an erosion of the business climate that still lingers today.

* After staunchly resisting the nation's first property-tax revolt (1978's Proposition 13) he subsequently supported it so strongly that several counties and agencies went bankrupt. The straitjacketed state budget structure that came in its wake is partly blamed for the $4 billion deficit he left behind which since has grown to $14 billion.

* Indecision over aerial pesticide spraying cost him support in the environmental and farm community.

"There was a gigantic gap between his moral ideals and his ability to build coalitions to get things done," notes Bruce Cain, a political scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. "He was very contentious with the Legislature throughout his tenure."

"He had great rhetoric, but poor follow through," adds Joe Scott, editor of the California Eye, an influential political newsletter.

By the time he left the California governorship, Brown lacked dignity and was not a figure to be taken seriously, according to Alan Heslop, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. By undermining the credibility of his office by shedding the trappings of power - driving an old Plymouth, and sleeping on a mattress in a small apartment - "Brown subjected himself to a mockery he could not survive," Professor Heslop says.

Though many say Brown has matured in his new incarnation, most see an accelerated version of the old Brown. The short answer is that reviews, from supporters and detractors alike, are mixed.

As he prepares for upcoming primaries in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and North Carolina, Brown's biggest calling card, say analysts, is that the problems he encountered in California were on a far grander scale than Governor Clinton faced in Arkansas.