Yesterday, I reported on San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s town hall meeting in Santa Monica and what I perceived as his tax and spend rhetoric. I was struck by the contrast with another Democratic gubernatorial candidate who has been around the block a few times – Jerry Brown.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci a week ago,
Attorney General Brown took a different tack. According to Marinucci’s report, Brown said if he were elected governor, “I would not be advocating new taxes, I’ll tell you that.” Already, California is “one of the highest tax states around,” he said. “So we’ve got to be competitive. We can’t drive all the jobs out and tax the few people who stay.”

Jerry Brown has lived through a tax revolt before when he was governor in 1978 and he senses when the natives are restless. Leading the opposition to Proposition 13, Brown learned the wrath of taxpayers first hand. After the initiative passed overwhelmingly, he declared himself a “born-again tax cutter” and did his best to implement the measure. In fact, his efforts on that front lead Proposition 13 co-author Howard Jarvis to vote for Brown for re-election.

Because of Brown’s switch on the tax issue post election day, he was fitted with the handle, Jerry Jarvis. Not bad, although it never rose to the heights of Governor Moonbeam in the public’s imagination.

Still, there’s something to say for experience. Brown knows that it is not just Republicans who are upset with out-of-control budgets and taxes on both the state and national level. He also has spent time over the years with noted supply-side economist Arthur Laffer and promoted pro-growth tax proposals such as the flat tax when he ran for president. It is not surprising to hear him talk about a concern of increased taxes effecting job creation.

True, no periods of history are exactly alike. This tax debate is occurring with a big hole in the state budget. In 1978, the state was sitting on a huge surplus. But, Brown seems to have learned political lessons from the tax crisis of thirty years ago. If he runs for governor, that experience will allow him to present a different image from the other candidates in the Democratic field.