SACRAMENTO, Calif. — With less than two weeks before he must enter the race for governor, state Attorney General Jerry Brown told college-age Democrats on Saturday to stay tuned for news about his presumed bid.
Brown, 71, has been acting rather coy for more than year about his plans, but he gave his first extensive comments about how he would run California since becoming the Democrats' presumed nominee.
"I've done pretty well not doing anything," Brown told a gathering of California Young Democrats when asked if he was running for governor. "We used to have a lot of people running for the Democratic nomination. They're not there anymore, right?"
Brown's aggressive fundraising and name recognition have been enough to drive potential rivals – such as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – out of the contest for the Democratic nomination. But his $12 million campaign account is much smaller than his potential Republican opponents.
Meg Whitman, the billionaire former chief executive of eBay, has given her campaign $39 million so far and is poised to spend more than $100 million. Steve Poizner, a multimillionaire who developed GPS chips for cell phones, has said he will add to the $19 million he already has given his campaign.
Brown said facing such a well-funded opponent is one of the reasons he has held off announcing his intentions.
"There's people out there, they've got $50 million in the bank," Brown said. "And you've got to get ready. You have to have all these things all lined up."
Brown, who was governor from 1975 to 1983, is likely to get some help outside of his campaign. Earlier this month, a group called "Level the Playing Field," backed by top Democratic political strategists, unveiled two radio ads calling on Whitman to explain her corporate record and release her tax returns. The Washington, D.C.-based Democratic Governors' Association, is also poised to get involved in the race.
Brown said whoever is elected governor will have to deal with the state's persistent budget problems. He blamed lawmakers for imposing tax cuts and creating new programs over the last decade that the state could never afford to sustain in a recession. He declined to say if he would cut any of those new programs and would not endorse tax increases.
"We didn't get into this overnight, and we're not going to get out of it right away," he said in an interview after his address. "It isn't just one person. It's engaging the entire Legislature and the people who support them."
One of the hardest hit areas in the state budget has been higher education. Students have staged demonstrations at colleges across the state to protest enrollment cuts, raised fees and fewer class offerings imposed by UC and CSU systems to cope with an unprecedented cut in state funding. Community colleges also have raised fees and reduced the number of classes.
Brown told the students gathered for the forum at California State University, Sacramento that he opposed the recent student tuition hikes and suggested Californians should realign their priorities. He noted that state spending on prison health care has skyrocketed over the last three decades at the expense of higher education.
On other issues Brown made the following comments:
_ Health Care: Brown who as a presidential candidate supported a single-payer health care system, said he would be hesitant to create a government-run health care system in the state. Instead, he suggested Congress ought to pass President Obama's plan for expanded health care at the national level.
_ Raising Taxes: Brown declined to say whether he would raise taxes, saying government could save money by being more efficient and realigning its priorities.
_ Federal Help: Brown said Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was right to ask the federal government to give California more money to help balance its budget. He said Congress needs to be persuaded that states "are as important as corporations," which have received billions in bailout money.
_ Budget: Brown said California ought to have a rainy day fund to ensure state programs don't suffer in future recessions.