Like many Californians I came from someplace else. On my last stop before entering California in Las Vegas , I remember looking into a sidewalk newspaper box (remember those?) to read the headline that Jerry Brown was just elected to his first term as governor of California. As he prepares to leave the governor’s office for the last time, and as I see the light at the end of the tunnel of my political years here, I can’t help but think Jerry Brown has served as bookends during my political life in the Golden State.
The first time I personally met Brown was in 1982. He was running for the U.S. Senate against Pete Wilson and his campaign had come up with some information about a Wilson investment that Brown considered a tax dodge. Brown dropped into the offices of Howard Jarvis, who I worked for as an aide, to see if Jarvis would make a statement against Wilson. Pleasantries were exchanged but Brown did not get his wish.
Years later, I sat with Brown at a conference in Sacramento—can’t remember what it was about—but the talk around the table during lunch, among other things covered, was the then on-going debate over how to rebuild the Bay Bridge. The discussion led to an op-ed I wrote published in the San Francisco Chronicle proposing a World Series bet between the Mayors Brown—Willie of San Francisco and Jerry of Oakland—if the town’s respective baseball teams faced each other in the World Series (a possibility that late September that eventually didn’t come to pass) with the winner’s vision of the bridge prevailing.
While he was mayor of Oakland, Brown graciously gave me time for a telephone interview when I was writing a book on Proposition 13. Brown opposed Prop 13 in 1978. When I asked him how he could have won the campaign, Brown said, “We needed a better alternative sooner. The alternative we offered was too complicated. Howard came along and just cut seven billion, gave the money to the people. It was simple.”
When Brown recaptured the governorship and attempted to deal with the state’s desperate fiscal situation, he called for a tax increase to be voted on by the people. A number of Republican legislators resisted putting taxes on the ballot. However, on these pages I supported the idea of a tax increase on the ballot as long as voters could also vote on budget reforms such as a spending limit and pension changes.
In the end, Brown’s allies resisted the fiscal reforms so the governor chose the initiative route for his tax increases. I helped lead the campaign opposed to the tax increase because the spending reforms were not present, but Brown won.
However, you can see that Brown thought some reform in these areas was and is necessary as underscored by his legal team defending in court what pension reforms he was able to get through the legislature. The court’s decision could open the door for even greater reforms in the pension arena.
As for spending caps, if you want to appreciate a strong defense of spending limits, read Jerry Brown’s inaugural address of 1979.
Brown, of course, has been good material for many articles on these pages during his most recent stint in the corner office.
Now his final term is ending. Many reports are that he is retiring to Colusa County. I don’t believe it. I doubt he’s ready to permanently end his political activity.
And if it happens that the Democratic presidential convention is deadlocked and party bigwigs come knocking on his door, Brown will be rested and ready.