Jerry Brown as California governor, Act 2: Can he save the state?
Jerry Brown may be mellower and more experienced than when he first served as governor in 1975. Now he faces big challenges given California’s more diverse population and flagging economy.
Just as he did in early 1975, Jerry Brown on Jan. 3 takes the helm of California from a former movie star Republican governor: Back then it was Ronald Reagan; now it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s pretty much where the similarities end when it comes to governing the Golden State today compared with 28 years ago.Skip to next paragraph
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No, wait a minute. Back then the US economy was emerging from recession, too – though the state jobless rate of 9.4 percent didn’t hold a candle to today’s dismal 12 percent unemployment.
Indeed, 1975 may turn out to be a cakewalk for the once and future governor compared with the state of affairs that now awaits him. For starters, there’s the projected budget deficit of at least $25.4 billion. There’s more traffic congestion and pollution, and deteriorating highways, dams, and levees. The public education system is no longer the envy of the free world, and the national media are writing of the state’s declining influence. There’s evidence the middle class is fleeing the state, plus the perpetual complaints from businesses that taxes and fees are too high.
But Mr. Brown has changed, too – and perhaps is better equipped now to lead California out of a funk and into, if not the sunset, at least stability, analysts say. Voters must be hopeful that’s the case as well. They handed Brown, a lifelong Democrat, a decisive 53.8 percent victory in November over Republican Meg Whitman.
“The good news is that reforms are in place and [Brown] has all of the skills to do everything California needs without his need to prove anything or aspire to higher office,” says Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. “The not-so-good news is that the recession is bigger, the state more diverse, and the legislature more partisan. People hate government and don’t believe a word that comes out of any politician’s mouth.”
A more mellow Brown
Still pugnacious and spontaneous – qualities that won him both scorn and praise when he governed the first time – Brown is by most accounts mellower now. Gone are his bachelor days dating rock stars and “closing down the bars in Sacramento” – as he so baldly put it during a 2010 campaign debate, prompting the audience to laugh and his handlers to cringe.
Brown, in fact, has bulked up his political credentials since the days of the pet rock and “Kojak.” After his first stint as governor ended in 1983, he served two terms as mayor of Oakland and two terms as state attorney general. Those experiences have smoothed some of his rough edges, acquaintances say, as has Brown’s 2005 marriage to Anne Gust, a corporate lawyer and former chief administrative officer of Gap Inc. So have three runs for president.