A Jerry Brown Primer

Once upon a time, Jerry Brown was the fresh face of California politics. He was a naïve playboy for whom politics and governance was a family perk that accompanied his father’s trust fund. He obtained a law degree, but thereafter never really practiced law, at least as any practicing lawyer would recognize that term.

As governor, he opposed Prop 13, California’s popular real estate tax reform measure, because it threatened the cash cow of California politics and governance by ending the endless uptick of residential assessments – one side effect was the eviction of seniors who owned their residences free and clear but couldn’t keep up with taxes.

Before Prop 13, California real estate tax revenues increased effortlessly and annually, providing a secure allowance for tax supported programs without fiscal discipline. Pre-Prop 13 real estate tax revenue was the heroin of California state and county government.

Jerry Brown ran a landslide race for governor, riding the coattails of his father, Governor Pat Brown, an old-fashioned democrat, a successful lawyer and public servant. Jerry presented as a frugal and prudent liberal, driving a notoriously used car. When elected, he refused to live in the governor’s mansion.

When a budget surplus was achieved – made possible by the pre-prop 13 revenue stream – Governor Jerry Brown resisted returning it to the taxpayers or holding it as a rainy-day fund. Instead he proposed a bold scheme: Let’s spend the billion on a California space program.

“Governor Moonbeam” eventually left office with a fiscal deficit and deflated popularity.

After many years in the political wilderness, Jerry Brown decided to run for Oakland mayor, a position to which he was readily elected. I met him during that period. He was a study in contradictions. Ideas and new directions bubbled up in his mind and into his clipped and somewhat disjointed narrative in an incessant, uneditable flow. Follow-up action was frequently sabotaged by his short attention span, uneven staff support and the next new idea.

Jerry retained the New Age, Marxist-Lite rhetoric of the 60’s and 70’s, but notes of prudence and revisionism were creeping into his thinking. He began to promote law and order (he even read a study on attacking Oakland crime that I had prepared), and argued with some leftist friends that Castro had a better handle on the crime problem in Cuba than the city of Oakland did in the USA. As mayor, Jerry Brown supported land use changes designed to attract high income ex-pats from Silicon Valley and San Francisco to live in downtown Oakland lofts. That goal was partially realized.

Any fair assessment of Jerry Brown’s mayoral governance will give him credit for improvement: By all reasonable accounts, Mayor Brown’s record was better than his predecessor’s, partly because he traded his left-wing credentials and local fame for a “strong mayor” measure that expired with his departure from office. By all accounts, Mayor Brown’s tenure was vastly superior to that of his successor, that of Congressman Ron Dellums whose befuddled disengagement and obsolete “new left” politics have brought Oakland, California to the brink of ruin.

But when Jerry Brown sought his next job, there was a problem. He aspired to become the state’s top government lawyer, the Attorney General. A Brown family member of my acquaintance, a real lawyer, once bragged – accurately – that he was the only surviving attorney among Pat Brown’s family. But the law required that the AG “shall have been admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the state for a period of at least five years immediately preceding his election or appointment to such office.” It was my assessment – and that of every attorney I knew – that Brown had not met the minimum threshold for the position because he had not maintained active status with the state Bar for the minimum period. That would have required him to pay the active status dues and to have maintained his Mandatory Continuing Legal Education certification for the five year period. A hurried make-up program was engineered, strings were pulled and the single most unqualified California AG in memory was elected.

Fortunately for the taxpayers and citizens of the state, there was excellent staff support in the AG’s office, and Mr. Brown enjoyed equally good staff support at home, having married a respected corporate lawyer.

The Nanny Back-stab

Businesswoman Meg Whitman is the latest in a series of political outsiders who – at significant personal cost – entered California machine politics with the goal of making things better…only to hit a buzz saw.

At a critical moment in Ms. Whitman’s campaign, the operatives behind the Jerry Brown campaign staged a “scandal” designed to derail her campaign and fatally damage her standing with Hispanic voters in LA.

The incident itself was trivial. The well-off Whitman family employed a confidential domestic employee at a well-above market wage for nine years. The employee happened to be a woman with Hispano-Mexican roots. Taken at face value, her initial hiring was routine. She was vetted as a lawful worker by a reputable employment agency – social security number, drivers’ license, the whole package, were provided. Over the years, she benefited from the Whitman family’s trust.

That trust was betrayed. When this employee admitted her fraud, she was dismissed. Had she been kept on, the Whitman family would have been an accessory to federal crimes. Had she been let go earlier on a mere suspicion, the Whitman family would have been sued for discrimination by someone like the ever-opportunistic Gloria Allred. Such are the irrational restraints imposed on employers by the suffocating embrace of political correctness in California.

This Whitman “nanny attack” (given its timing and context) would not have taken place without Jerry Brown’s personal approval.

Whatever we can say about this political hit, this much is painfully clear: In the last stages of Jerry Brown’s career as a professional politician, it reveals his hunger for one more chance and a scary commitment to political correctness…whenever it happened to suit his latest ambition.

If Mr. Brown succeeds with this ploy, even fewer highly talented “outsiders” will try to break into the one-party politburo that has ruled California for the last thirty years.

Will the state suffer or benefit from Mr. Brown’s election to a “last hurrah” governorship? To be fair, that remains an open question.

But if the attack on Ms. Whitman is any indicator, there is just one question for Californians to ask themselves:

What has Jerry Brown become?


Jay B Gaskill is a California lawyer who served as the Alameda County Public defender before her left his “life of crime” to devote full time to writing. His profile is posted at .

Books by Jay B Gaskill currently available:

The Lost Souls Coffee Shop

The Stranded Ones

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