JERRY Brown was always fairly bursting with new ideas. His pace was breathtaking and his ambition -- the White House -- always quite apparent. Now comes soft-spoken George Deukmejian to the governorship of California. Even those who did not vote for him are finding him very much to their liking. They were ready for ``Quiet George.''
Mr. Deukmejian isn't receiving much national attention. Most people don't even know how to spell his name. But he's getting the job done. Under his leadership a $1.5 billion deficit has been averted and a reserve built up.
He has put state money into education, highways, and a prison-expansion program. He's appointed 163 judges who, as he says, ``will be as concerned about the rights of victims as they are about the rights of the accused.'' He's boosted the number of law-enforcement personnel by more than 20 percent. And the crime rate is dropping.
So the people in California like the governor's approach. They think he has his priorities just right.
In Sacramento, the governor said he would like to be reelected, but ``I haven't given any thought to anything else.'' Yet, Quiet George is a ``sleeper'' for the 1988 Republican ticket. He's a friend and a favorite of President Reagan, and the two frequently confer by phone. Also, Deukmejian is governing `a la Reagan -- by avoiding tax increases. While evoking anger among many Democrats, he has vetoed $4.3 billion in proposed spending.
Deukmejian is not a likely presidential candidate. But he is in a perfect position to become the vice-presidential nominee, should a ticket headed by George Bush emerge. Bush's roots are in Connecticut, though he now hails from Texas. Deukmejian would provide geographical balance, helping to bring California and the West once again behind a GOP presidential aspirant.
As of now Deukmejian is not looking beyond the borders of California: He seldom leaves the state. If the vice-presidency opportunity comes, it will have to seek him out. Unlike his opposite number on the East Coast, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, Deukmejian seems bent on keeping himself away from national attention.
In San Francisco I talked with another powerful California voice, Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who last year lost the Democratic vice-presidential nomination to Geraldine Ferraro. Walter Mondale probed deeply into Mrs. Feinstein's record and past and found her and her husband clean of anything that might be questioned.
Indeed, Mr. Mondale told at least one reporter that he was leaning toward picking Feinstein -- then suddenly chose Ms. Ferraro with only a cursory look at her past. Why? House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill's push for Ferraro seems to have been powerfully persuasive. Some influential Mondale aides were also backing Ferraro.
But Mayor Feinstein says she is delighted and relieved that she wasn't chosen. She is enjoying being mayor. She has done for San Francisco what Deukmejian has done for the state: reversed the budgetary deficit the city faced when she became mayor in 1979. Despite the tax reductions of Proposition 13 and losses in both state and federal funds, she has produced a budget surplus.
Feinstein made it clear that if, indeed, she made a move nationally in 1988, it would not be for the No. 2 spot. She would, instead, go for No. 1. And she would run for the presidency ``on all fronts,'' seeking the support of all voters and avoiding any appearance of being a candidate of the special interests.
This tall, handsome, vital woman is indeed impressive. If she decides to go for it all in 1988, watch out -- anyone who decides to take her on.
Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.