GOLIS: Gov. Moonbeam has never been boring

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"Edmund G. Brown Jr. campaigns like a man confident

of becoming California's next


— Press Democrat news profile, Oct. 13, 1974.

Thirty-six years after a young political reporter wrote those words, it is astonishing to contemplate that Jerry Brown could be elected governor of California again.

Consider: When Brown was first elected governor, the current president of the United States was 13 years old.

Voters can decide whether Brown's latest reincarnation testifies to his political longevity or to the stagnation inside the Democratic Party. Perhaps it is some of both.

But no one can say he isn't interesting.

When he campaigned in Sonoma County in the fall of 1974, he had reason to be confident. Three weeks later, he would become the 34th governor, succeeding a future president, Ronald Reagan. Brown was 36 years old with an intelligence and intellectual curiosity uncommon among politicians.

He will be president some day, his admirers predicted. Two years later, he launched the first of what would be three unsuccessful campaigns for the White House. At the end of his last campaign for president, in 1992, people said that Governor Moonbeam was finished.

The Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko dubbed him Governor Moonbeam. As a young politician, Brown was determined not to be conventional. He rode around in a blue Plymouth, slept on a mattress on the floor and jetted to Africa with pop star Linda Ronstadt.

And he made few friends in a Capitol where his father, Gov. Pat Brown, had been a popular fixture. Amateur psychologists said his disinterest in social niceties was his way of showing he wasn't like his gregarious father.

Meanwhile, there were unconventional and controversial appointees — among them Rose Bird as chief justice of the Supreme Court, Huey Johnson as resources secretary and Adriana Gianturco as transportation director.

In Sonoma County, Gianturco would become a popular target of derision, blamed for delaying construction of the Highway 101 bypass at Cloverdale because she favored transit over highways.

Years later, Royko would say he was sorry — that he had learned to appreciate the governor's embrace of new ideas — but it was too late. For some, Brown will always be Governor Moonbeam.

Since this is a hometown newspaper, it should be mentioned that Sonoma County and the Brown political dynasty go way back. Pat Brown summered on the Russian River as a kid. Three years ago, Jerry Brown and his new wife honeymooned on the river.

During his time as governor, Brown was a regular visitor. He came to campaign and to talk about issues that resonated here — a new environmental ethic, coastal protection, farm labor, alternative energy and energy conservation.

At The Geysers, he promoted geothermal energy as his Department of Water Resources made plans to partner in a new geothermal plant.

On another visit, he announced that he was withdrawing his opposition to the construction of Warm Springs Dam.

Local environmentalists were unhappy. But Brown insisted that he had wrung important concessions from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that later built the dam. "If anything, this was a victory for environmental concerns," he declared.

Then he unloosed one of those signature observations about the give-and-take of politics: "Sometimes I make them happy and sometimes I don't. That's why I say my job is to manage discontent."

In May of 1977, Brown visited Cloverdale, and the next day's headline read: "Brown says surplus is more than $2 billion."

A year later, the failure of the governor and the Legislature to wisely manage that surplus would lead to a voter revolt and Proposition 13 — but it's worth remembering that there was a time when California wasn't broke.

Three months after the passage of Proposition13, Brown delivered a State of the State address that delighted conservatives and dismayed his fellow Democrats.

"He out-Reaganed Reagan," complained then-state Sen. Barry Keene, a Mendocino County Democrat.

Then-Assemblyman Doug Bosco, D-Occidental, was more matter of fact. "It quite accurately reflected public opinion," he said.

"I know this begins his campaign for the presidential nomination," joked another observer on the Assembly floor that day, "but which party?"

Within months, Brown was once again campaigning for president. At one point, he was absent from Sacramento for 81 consecutive days.

On his return, he was unapologetic, telling Capitol reporters, "I not only think it is necessary but appropriate not to be a prisoner of Sacramento."

At the end of two terms, Brown sought a seat in the U.S. Senate, and when the polls closed, some television stations projected that he had won. But when the votes were counted, Republican Pete Wilson was on his way to Washington.

In the intervening years, Brown studied Zen in Japan, volunteered with Mother Teresa in India, served as Democratic state party chairman, hosted a radio talk show, served eight years as mayor of Oakland and won election, in 2006, as state attorney general, the same job his father held a half-century earlier.

He will be 72 next month, twice his age when he was first elected governor. He says he is more patient now, but who knows if any governor can turn around a state that many think is ungovernable?

We do know this: If Jerry Brown has a second act as governor, it won't be boring.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. E-mail him at

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