Grass Roots With the `New, Old' Jerry Brown

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

INSIDE the Jerry Brown national campaign headquarters here, volunteer Susan Sanders cheerily photocopies candidate position papers while about 60 colleagues scurry between phones and a half-dozen computer terminals.

"I have never been involved in politics in my life before," says the 50-year-old local resident who donates three afternoons a week to the campaign. "I just don't believe the politicians out there can do anything anymore. Jerry can."

Just outside the front door, Kim Tyler, a songwriter and independent videomaker is donating his time and equipment to film testimonials to Jerry Brown. He will send the videos to local TV stations, CNN, and the networks.

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"All the other candidates are just politics as usual, but here is a man who is putting honesty before money," Mr. Tyler says. "A lot of those of the older persuasion don't understand that."

Tyler and Ms. Sanders are just two of the grass-roots army to have come out of the woodwork in support of former California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. since he won the Connecticut primary.

And in keeping with the "We the People ... take back America" signs punctuating the ochre walls here, the Brown campaign submitted a Federal Election Commission matching-fund request recently for $1,223,119 representing 21,450 contributors. By contrast the campaign of rival Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton submitted a request for $1,076,730 representing only 8,265 contributors.

"These figures highlight the fundamental difference between the messages of the Brown and Clinton campaigns," said Brown's campaign manager, Jodie Evans.

Pointing out that the Clinton campaign relies on a small number of big money contributors, Ms. Evans notes that the Brown campaign, which accepts no contribution over $100, "has brought hundreds of thousands of Americans back into the political process."

But his choice of Jesse Jackson as running mate angered New York's large Jewish population. And his unwillingness to move his campaign tactics beyond negative attacks of a "rotten, corrupt, poisoned" government in need of reform slowed the momentum he had gained earlier.

"His choice of Jesse Jackson to garner black support was a symbol of what politicians do to mobilize, manipulate, and politically strategize," says Sherry Jeffe, a political scientist at Claremont College. "That's what he pledged he wouldn't do."

All this was before Brown's backward stumble in New York. Several political pundits, pollsters, and analysts in this state where Mr. Brown served eight years as governor say they were nonplussed to find themselves using such terms as "serious" and "viable" with regard to his candidacy.

They watched Brown move from the back of the Democratic pack to score primary or caucus wins in Connecticut, Maine, Colorado, Vermont, Nevada, and Alaska, along with second-place showings in Rhode Island, Mississippi, Utah, Massachusetts, and Wyoming.

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.

"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.

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