Jerry Brown has a long, varied, and colorful history in California politics. Most anyone, friend or foe, would say he’s a maverick. He definitely does things in his own way and doesn’t much care what the crowd is doing. How many politicians would go from being governor of a state to mayor of a city in that state? Very few would, because they’d see it as a step down, but not Jerry Brown. Also, he gets pegged as a liberal but his policies are often a mixture from all sides of the political spectrum.
In his political career, he has been California Secretary of State (1971-1975), Governor of California (1975-1983), Mayor of Oakland (1998-2006), is now Attorney General of California (since 2007), and just declared his candidacy in the upcoming race for governor.
It certainly helps that he was born into politics. His father, Pat Brown, was Governor of California from 1959-1967. He became a lawyer in the early 60’s, and by the late 60’s was organizing against the Vietnam War and in support of farm workers. As Secretary of State, he sued major corporations for campaign finance violations and was instrumental in the passage of the landmark Fair Political Practices Act.
As governor, he refused to live in the mansion, drove an old car to work and actively promoted environmental causes. He also curbed state spending and balanced the budget, which is certainly something liberals aren’t often known for doing. He used an “era of limits” slogan when he ran a quite credible campaign for president in 1976, winning in several states in the primary. He finished in third place with 300 delegate votes. In his less successful 1980 presidential run, he called for increased funding of solar power and for universal health care. Again, he was ahead of the curve (or maybe just ignoring it.)
He got clobbered in his 1982 Senate run against Pete Wilson, and many figured his career was over. He traveled for a few years, studying Buddhism, and visited Mother Teresa in India, certainly unusual behavior for a career politician. But by 1989, he was back in the game, as chair of the California Democratic Party.
He ran for president again in 1992 taking the then (and still) highly unusual stance of refusing corporate contributions and limiting personal contributions to $100. He gave his campaign a highly populist edge, railing against monied special interests. Yet he also called for income tax to be replaced by a mixture of flat and value-added taxes. Again, we see the mix of supposed left and right platforms here; campaign finance reform is often seen as a liberal issue while flat tax is a conservative issue.
Now he’s running for governor (again!) and his announcement video shows the same, often surprising, mix of platform planks from all over the spectrum. Along with saving the environment and fixing the schools he calls for 1) Truth on the budget. No more evasions, 2) No new taxes unless you the people vote for them, 3) Downsize state government and return decision and authority to the cities and counties. Say what? A liberal is saying downsize the government, and no new taxes?
He also says the current partisanship in Sacramento is poisonous and the budget is always late, always in the red, and always wrong. And that’s something that voters on all sides can probably agree with, regardless of whether you plan to vote for him or for someone else.