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Gather ’round, youngsters, and we’ll explain why Jerry Brown for Governor is more interesting than Harold Ford Jr. for Senate Not Really, Mort Zuckerman for Senate Not Really, and Mickey Kaus for Senate O RLY?
Brown, the son of a previous California governor, studied in a Jesuit seminary to become a priest before entering the family business, first as state attorney general, then as governor, succeeding Ronald Reagan. He led an ostentatiously spartan lifestyle, eschewing state limos for a beat-up Plymouth, and the governor’s mansion for a rented apartment. He practiced Zen meditation and invited a Sufi choir to sing at his inauguration. He suggested California launch its own satellite. Hence, Governor Moonbeam.
Inspired by his friend, the labor activist Cesar Chavez, Brown signed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act protecting the right of migrant farmworkers to bargain collectively. He repealed depletion allowances for oil companies and approved tax incentives for the installation of solar energy devices.
But he was also, in the words of libertarian writer Jesse Walker, “much more of a fiscal conservative than Governor Reagan,” and ran a surplus. And he called a special session of the legislature to cap non-economic claims in medical malpractice settlements.
After two terms he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1982, and campaigned for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1976, 1980, and 1992, during the last of which he referred to Bill Clinton as “the prince of sleaze.” (Chavez gave Brown’s presidential nomination speech at the ’76 Democratic Convention.)
We saw Brown speak in Union Square during his ’92 run; he demanded a simplified tax code, and illustrated his wish by taking several volumes of the code and, with frightening force, hurling them into a trash can as the crowd roared. This was also the campaign in which Brown, refusing PAC donations and those over $100, made a point of announcing his fundraising 800 number at every opportunity; Time called him, fringe Republican Pat Buchanan, and independent Ross Perot the “1-800-Pound Guerrillas” of the electoral season. Brown was advised in ’92 by Jacques Barzaghi, who spoke in modish aphorisms (“Our campaign transcends understanding”) and was compared by the New York Times to Dieter in SNL’s “Sprockets” sketches.
After a stint as host of a radio talk show, on which he interviewed folks like Alice Walker and Noam Chomsky, Brown finally found a new office as Mayor of Oakland, beginning his inauguration day with an mass meditation. The hippies didn’t know what they were in for, though: Brown opposed the teaching of the fashionably radical Mumia Abu-Jamal case in public schools (“a dumb idea… only 10 percent of the kids are at grade level in reading”), supported charter schools, gentrified downtown Oakland, placed probationers under curfew (not to protect others, but to protect the probationers from crime), and invited the Marines to stage urban war games in Oakland.
From thence Brown became state attorney general, in which capacity he reversed himself to side with Prop 8 opponents and sued an e-cigarette maker for selling an unsafe product, and now he’s running for governor again.
Plus he dated Linda Ronstadt and was the subject of a great Dead Kennedys song.
That’s why the Brown campaign is more interesting than the Ford, Zuckerman, or any other similarly odd campaigns this year: Because, unlike those other guys, Jerry Brown himself is interesting. Also: He could win.
You may contact him at his blog.