The Reinvention Of Calif.'s New And Former Governor

  • Jerry Brown has been re-elected to serve as California's governor, more than three decades after his earliest days in the governor's office. Brown won his first term in 1974.
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    Jerry Brown has been re-elected to serve as California's governor, more than three decades after his earliest days in the governor's office. Brown won his first term in 1974.
    Jeff Robbins/AP/NPR
  • Brown's first term followed the eight years in office of Gov. Ronald Reagan, who met with Brown on Nov. 8, 1974, to discuss the transition.
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    Brown's first term followed the eight years in office of Gov. Ronald Reagan, who met with Brown on Nov. 8, 1974, to discuss the transition.
    AP/NPR
  • Brown addresses a crowd of about 25,000 at an anti-nuclear rally in San Luis Obispo on June 30, 1979. Brown earned the nickname "Governor Moonbeam" for what some saw as unorthodox behavior — including his early support for alternative energy and his suggestion that California launch a satellite into space.
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    Brown addresses a crowd of about 25,000 at an anti-nuclear rally in San Luis Obispo on June 30, 1979. Brown earned the nickname "Governor Moonbeam" for what some saw as unorthodox behavior — including his early support for alternative energy and his suggestion that California launch a satellite into space.
    Brich/AP/NPR
  • Brown launched his first unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination on Nov. 8, 1979, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., with a sign-language interpreter at his side.
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    Brown launched his first unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination on Nov. 8, 1979, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., with a sign-language interpreter at his side.
    AP/NPR
  • Brown tried again for the presidency in 1992 — his third bid. Later in the decade, he was elected mayor of Oakland and immersed himself in the nuts and bolts of managing a big city.
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    Brown tried again for the presidency in 1992 — his third bid. Later in the decade, he was elected mayor of Oakland and immersed himself in the nuts and bolts of managing a big city.
    Wilfredo Lee/AP/NPR
  • In 2006, Brown set his sights on statewide office again and found success. Here, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kelly, Brown's niece, swears him in as California's new attorney general in San Francisco on Jan. 8, 2007.
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    In 2006, Brown set his sights on statewide office again and found success. Here, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kelly, Brown's niece, swears him in as California's new attorney general in San Francisco on Jan. 8, 2007.
    Paul Sakuma/AP/NPR
  • Brown faced off against Republican Meg Whitman in 2010 as he sought to return to the governor's office. Former President Bill Clinton and lieutenant governor candidate Gavin Newsom listen as Brown campaigns in Los Angeles on Oct. 15.
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    Brown faced off against Republican Meg Whitman in 2010 as he sought to return to the governor's office. Former President Bill Clinton and lieutenant governor candidate Gavin Newsom listen as Brown campaigns in Los Angeles on Oct. 15.
    Chris Carlson/AP/NPR
  • Brown speaks with his campaign manager, Steven Glazer, en route to San Diego on Oct. 31.
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    Brown speaks with his campaign manager, Steven Glazer, en route to San Diego on Oct. 31.
    Chris Carlson/AP/NPR
  • Brown celebrates his election win over Whitman during a rally with his wife, Anne Gust, in Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 2.
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    Brown celebrates his election win over Whitman during a rally with his wife, Anne Gust, in Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 2.
    Eric Risberg/AP/NPR
  • Brown meets with advisers and members of the Department of Finance in Sacramento on Nov. 16. At 72, he will be California's oldest governor. When he was first sworn in back in the 1970s, he was its youngest.
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    Brown meets with advisers and members of the Department of Finance in Sacramento on Nov. 16. At 72, he will be California's oldest governor. When he was first sworn in back in the 1970s, he was its youngest.
    Rich Pedroncelli/AP/NPR

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California's governor-elect is a Democrat who's reinvented himself a time or two.

Back in the 1970s, Jerry Brown was the state's youngest governor. Now, at 72, he's about to become its oldest.

As Brown deals with a crushing budget deficit, many say he'll try to fix the troubled state the same way he tried to fix a troubled city.

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown in his office.

Jerry Brown in his office in downtown Oakland, Calif., on Sept. 8, 2003. He adopted a "take no prisoners" attitude during his time as mayor. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Brown was elected the mayor of Oakland in 1998 by a big margin. But if voters then thought they were getting a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, they were wrong. He adopted a "take no prisoners" attitude, advocating "real change."

"And real change isn't so easy," he said at the time. "It's a word that rolls off one's lips ... but any time you have real change there's some pain, there's tension, there's adjustment, there's some wrenching going on."

In his first 100 days in office, he forced a popular black police chief to resign. He invited the U.S. Marines to conduct urban warfare exercises in the city. He waved off howling protests, saying the Marines would bring several million dollars to Oakland.

A Rock Star In Supporters' Eyes

One of Brown's cornerstone projects was to attract 10,000 new residents to the city's beleaguered downtown. He minced no words announcing that downtown developers had a new friend in City Hall:

Brown Before Oakland

Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown, son of two-term Gov. Pat Brown (1959-66), won his first stint as governor of California in 1974, after Ronald Reagan served eight years. He won a landslide re-election four years later.

His tenure was marked by what some saw as unorthodox behavior — including his early support for alternative energy, his suggestion that California launch a satellite into space, and his romance with singer Linda Ronstadt — and he picked up the nickname "Governor Moonbeam." At times he seemed more interested in the White House than he did in Sacramento.

His 1976 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination generated excitement but came too late to stop Jimmy Carter, and his 1980 bid — against President Carter and Sen. Edward Kennedy — fell pretty flat. He could have sought a third gubernatorial term in 1982, but instead decided to run for the Senate. He was defeated by Pete Wilson, a Republican.

Brown made a third presidential bid in 1992, running as an outsider and winning a couple of primaries, but ultimately never coming close to beating out frontrunner Bill Clinton.

— Ken Rudin

"I want to make this very clear, if I say nothing else: We're not going to be coerced, we're not going to be intimidated, and we're not going to be stopped in the pursuit of a renewed Oakland! And we're just going to move through opposition, listening where we must and where we should, but not being slowed down."

The plan worked. And today, downtown Oakland is full of new apartments and condos.

On other fronts, Brown was less successful. Crime remained stubbornly high. But it didn't stop him from living in a downtown loft.

"I live in a building where we've had two robberies, one by knife, one by gun," he said. "So this is not an abstraction. It's a matter of personal safety and commitment."

That commitment to Oakland made Brown a rock star in the eyes of supporters like developer John Protopappas.

"He got us to look at Oakland in a different way," Protopappas says. "We've become very proud of being Oaklanders and a lot of that is due to Jerry Brown."

From Idealist To 'Idealistic Pragmatist'

By trying to reinvent Oakland, Brown was also reinventing himself.

The man once derided as "Governor Moonbeam" immersed himself in the nuts and bolts of managing a big city. After running unsuccessfully for president three times, Brown talked about practicalities like potholes and property values.

"Jerry Brown is a pragmatist," says former Sacramento State communications professor Barbara O'Connor, a longtime Brown watcher. "He used to be an idealist. Now he's an idealistic pragmatist."

But critics accused Brown of grandstanding and said he was just using Oakland as a steppingstone to higher office.

One of those critics was former school board member Dan Siegel. "We once had a discussion when we were on more friendly terms about who he is as a person. He leaned across the table; he said, 'Siegel, remember one thing about me: I'm a hundred percent political. If you understand that, you'll understand why I do things.'"

'I've Been Up And I've Been Down'

After Oakland, Brown was elected state attorney general. Despite his opposition to the death penalty, he walked the line on law and order.

Now, in his second act as governor, Brown will lead a state many consider ungovernable. The state is more diverse. The Legislature is ideologically divided. And voter-imposed spending rules will limit Brown's options, says Mark Paul, former state deputy treasurer.

"When Jerry was governor, there was a lot of flexibility with regard to raising revenues in years in which things were bad," Paul says. "Now it's all going the other direction. They're more and more hemmed in. Californians want services, but there's not the wherewithal to pay for them."

But few people remember that Brown was a very frugal governor, says O'Connor.

"He is still a fiscal conservative," she says. "And I think his supporters on the union side will be surprised about how serious he is about cutting and not taxing without prior public approval. He's learned his lessons, and I think he's learned them from the ground up."

The morning after winning the governor's race, Brown said he is fully aware of what lies ahead.

"I didn't create this mess. I'm going to be straight and tell it like it is, and I'll do everything I can to make it work," he said.

And, he added, "I've been up and I've been down. I'm going to do my darndest to stay up."