Reading the Brown Transcripts

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The transcripts of media interviews recorded by Attorney General Jerry Brown’s former spokesman Scott Gerber (and related emails) run to 93 pages. The PDF is here.

If you can only read one thing, check out the transcript of the interview of Brown by Beth Fouhy of the AP. This is the real Brown: cagey, canny, and candid. His media method, as I learned in reporting a story on Brown recently for the American Prospect, is to seize control of the interview by asking reporters as many questions as they ask him. The best adjective for this method is Socratic.

A bit of news: Brown makes plain in this AP interview, conducted in April, that he’s a candidate for governor. He hadn’t spoken that plainly at that point about his intentions (he’s still playing a “will I or won’t I?” game), though his candidacy has been widely considered a certainty.

He also talks more straightforwardly than he has in other interviews about his intentions for the state. Brown’s overarching view is, as a character famously said in the film The Candidate, “politics is bullshit.”

On why he might run for governor: “The state has lurched from crisis to crisis. The creativity that I saw in state government 25 years ago is not there and I do believe I have the experience and ability to attract very skilled and creative people that could make a contribution both in education and renewable energy, prison reform and in dealing with the water crisis.”

On political consultants (and questions about his age and whether he’s out of step with the times): “When my father ran for governor they didn’t have all these paid consultants, you had volunteers. He had a guy in a law firm. He had a dentist. He had a labor leader. You’d come over to the house to run a campaign for attorney general. I heard it. I used to sit around and listen. Now, everybody has vendors to talk to them about your hair style and their Internet page and their this and that. The consultants take an enormous salary but they gotta do something. So the issue de jour now is that some of the candidates are younger than some of the other candidates. One can make a campaign out of that. I would be very surprised. And that’s another issue. This is a campaign about former mayors, well that was a month after it was a campaign about age and next month they’ll have another one. When you’re paying these guys twenty grand a month they have to produce something. The candidates often don’t understand because they haven’t been doing these things. There is a certain fashion and things kinda bubble up and then they disapate (sic)”

On the limited value of campaigns in politics: “[Candidates] are what they are and there’s a limited amount of change a campaign brings in. That’s why campaigns like to engage in negative campaigning. If they can find something nasty to say or some peccadillo, some serious flaw, they project that and it sometimes can alter the race. Absent that, if you just look at what people are – you’ve got a couple of mayors, Whitman, you got Poizner, Campbell—they are what they are.

On dirty campaigning: “I remember when Nixon ran against my father and he had a Chinatown rally and my father’s guy, a guy named Dick Tuck, a real trickster, had a sign, Nixon’s brother, Donald Nixon, got a big loan from the Hughes Tool Company, which is a government contractor, so they had this big sign in Chinese: ‘Nixon, what about the huge loan?’ So that was a dirty trick… It’s much nastier now.”

Another note: for a guy who doesn’t think much of politics, he thinks about politics quite a bit. He reveals himself to be a close reader of campaign finance reports. “I doubt that anyone will have more money than I do. It doesn’t look like that. If you look at the December filings… I don’t know if you noticed those. Garamendi had about $700,000 and Newsom really had about $550,000 but because he had $179,000 more on the line that said he committed liabilities there was $179,000 so even though he reported $700,000 or so, it was really $550,000 in disposable income…”

He goes on into more detail from there.

Brown vs. Whitman would be a heck of an interesting contrast. Whitman, the big spender with all the consultants. Brown, with a no-frills, do-it-yourself approach. Heck, Brown might be able to claim that he’s the real eBay candidate.

And he loves his different persona. When the conversation between Brown and Fouhy turned to Hillary Clinton’s weakness as a candidate (in response to a query about Newsom’s efforts to portray him as Hillary and Newsom as Obama): “She doesn’t have the scope. She didn’t work with Mother Theresa. She didn’t spend six months working in a Zen Buddhism (sic). She didn’t take Linda Rondstadt to Africa. She didn’t have her own astronaut. I had Rusty Schweickart, an astronaut. I put him on the state energy commission. There is a certain texture to who I am and it’s unique so I don’t know how you compare it.”

I don’t know either.

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