It was the morning after the 1992 California primary and the knocking on the bedroom door was insistent. Feeling a little groggy after a very late election night, I was slow to respond. But that didn't stop Jerry Brown. The door opened, and he entered.
Brown had just run in the last presidential primary of his career. (Never say never, I know, but I'm not expecting another Brown presidential run, just a fourth gubernatorial term.) He said that I'd just had a phone call, from someone whose name I'm not sure I learned. Though we'd talked at his L.A. headquarters the night before, he clearly wanted to talk more and the fact that both of us were staying at his sister Kathleen's home in the Hollywood Hills enabled that to happen.
His trademark irrepressibility was very much in evidence.
Jerry Brown spoke at the 1992 Democratic National Convention in New York City.
Starting from way back in the pack, the then former California governor, who had only re-entered politics a few years earlier after practicing with an L.A. law firm, studying Zen Buddhism in Kyoto, and working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, had emerged into a feisty second place behind then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. He'd run a long and grueling campaign, managed by my old friend Jodie Evans, a campaign frequently marked by sharp exchanges with the hardball Clinton crew, in a venture focused on the underside of politics and the need for reform. The Internet wasn't a mass medium yet (I wouldn't go on it, using a text-based browser, till the following year), but Brown, an early Internet user, fueled his campaign via an 800 number and a self-imposed contribution limit of $100.
As seen in this clip from the C-SPAN archives, I introduced Brown the weekend before his last presidential primary at the American Community Summit at Sony Pictures Studios in L.A. Brown gave a rather, well, downbeat presentation on the crisis of the cities.
But the morning after the the last primary of the race, his not infrequently dour message was replaced with an upbeat attitude.
Brown was going on to the Democratic national convention in New York City, looking to stay newsworthy and push his ideas, most of which you are hearing today, while not doing too much damage to Clinton. Not that he was fond of Clinton, but he was decidedly less fond of then President George Bush.
Brown had already begun pulling his punches. In the California primary, he decided not to run TV ads, though he had the money, and throttled back on his criticism of Clinton. The future president might well have won anyway, as he had a good head of steam and a strong campaign directed by my old Gary Hart colleague John Emerson, but Brown's behavior certainly didn't hurt. He just wanted to make sure he won a lot more delegates, which he did with a close second. He ended up with around 600 convention delegates, more than enough to raise a ruckus.
Of course, he might have done far better had he not sabotaged his lead in the run-up to the New York primary by announcing that he would make Jesse Jackson his running mate, something which decidedly did not fly with Jewish voters and many moderates.
Still, the Clinton camp was wary, and I reported to Brown that Warren Beatty, an old friend from the Gary Hart days and an old Brown backer who had been supportive of his 1992 candidacy but also looked favorably on Clinton, would be calling him at his San Francisco home, a classic old converted Victorian firehouse, to talk party comity.
Brown, a classic political animal -- some of the most visionary conversations I've ever had and some of the most hardball conversations (sometimes in the same conversation) I've ever had have been with him -- knew this race was over but was fascinated with what lay ahead.
The convention was in July, but before that was the first Earth Summit, in Rio, where Brown went about a week later. It was there that the United Nations climate change convention was established, which paved the way for the Kyoto Protocol five years later.
Brown was in his wheelhouse in Rio on renewable energy and conservation, something which hadn't been of much interest to Clinton. Now, of course, Clinton is all over the climate issue.
And, of course, the same sort of issues remain. (There's another Earth summit this month in Rio but, while Brown's predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger is going, Brown won't make it this time.)
For California's chronic budget crisis remains, too. Much of it has been solved, but much remains.
Most of the important happenings of the past few weeks in California politics, with the primary not all that interesting except in some individual district and local races, has been about setting out the terms of debate and decision around Brown's fiscal moves.
Brown got quite good news in the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, which finds good levels of support for Brown's governorship and for his November revenue initiative.
It also found deep suspicion of the legislature with regard to state budget decisions.
Brown's job approval rating among voters is 49 percent, disapproval is 39 percent. And his initiative is backed by 59 percent, with only 36 percent opposed.
However, if voters believe that the state legislature is likely to call shots on spending of the new revenue, support for the initiative drops sharply to 50 percent. With 42 percent opposed.
Put another way, if Brown is perceived as being in charge of the budget, the initiative has a 23-point lead.
But if the legislature is seen as being in charge, the initiative has only an 8-point lead.
Brown appeared on Thursday before the California State Association of Counties, where he vowed that he will get big budget cuts he is pursuing, cuts which Democratic legislative leaders have balked at so far after going along with most of Brown's cuts last year.
Since the new revenue is essential to hold on to some essential basic programs going forward, what the poll suggests is quite clear.
The legislature needs to follow Brown's lead. And if it doesn't, he needs to be tough.
The USC/LAT poll also finds President Barack Obama ahead of Mitt Romney by a huge margin, 56 percent to 37 percent. That will help set up a supportive environment for Brown's initiative, too.
While Brown is personally popular in the state, Obama is more popular.
Californians turning out to return Obama and his proactive approach to governance for another four years in the White House will be in the right frame of mind to pass Brown's initiative.
We know from this and other polling that, even though the small quarter-cent sales tax is not popular -- more taxes on the rich are popular, and only a political problem insofar as they might draw money against the initiative to try to make the case that the contributions are really to stop the sales tax hike, haha -- that specific budget cuts are unpopular, too.
Brown and then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton had heated exchanges during the 1992 presidential primaries, including this debate in Chicago.
California's compensation commission decided that state constitutional officers and legislators will take a 5 percent pay cut to mirror what Brown is pushing with state workers. Brown, naturally, doesn't have a problem with that.
But it's not all budget/all the time, thank God.
The energy and environmental issues we talked about that morning after his last presidential primary are still very much in evidence. Especially with carbon hitting the 400 parts per million milestone, a happening all too underreported by our ADD media.
The California State Assembly took another big step toward implementing the cap and trade portion of the state's landmark climate change program, setting up standards for how revenue generated by the program can be spent. The program was promoted by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed it into law in 2006, and former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. Under the bill passed on a 47-26 vote -- Republicans are still trying to kill the climate change program nearly six years after it was passed and signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger -- funds can only be spent on green energy, low-carbon transportation (such as high-speed rail), protection of resources, and related research and development. $1 billion is expected in the first year, with more after that.
And the California Energy Commission adopted new green building standards. These will make buildings 25 percent more energy efficient, the biggest revision in the program in decades.
Throughout the week running up to Memorial Day, in the aftermath of the "surprise" increase in California's chronic budget deficit from the January proposal to the May revise -- a surprise only to the arithmetically challenged, or those who weren't paying attention to the dozens of things said by Brown and other state officials -- Brown focused on communicating and making moves.
He got a good response, especially for a Democrat, that Tuesday morning at the annual Host Breakfast sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce. One top business leader told me afterward that it was one of the best speeches he's ever heard there.
Brown's purpose, of course, was to further tamp down potential opposition to this big November revenue initiative. And to remind that California has great strengths and characteristics for the future, as well as chronic challenges in the present.
Brown rambled a bit, as is his wont, but what reads as rambling on the page (and it's only on the page after he's said it) I've noticed over many years, often plays as fun and rather exciting in the moment as he delivers it.
The new/renewed governor ran through a number of strengths and accomplishments, as well as problems, then got into a close which bears repeating on this Memorial Day weekend.
"Courage, it's not only William James who talked about courage. It's not only the military who showed courage in World War II right down to Iraq and Afghanistan, that courage is something Solzhenitsyn who spoke at Harvard said there's nothing more important than having the courage and it's the very virtue that I find lacking in western civilization today. So I think we have to prove him wrong. I think we can prove him wrong right here in California, and I come as someone rooted in the state.
"Right Here, Right Now," by the British group Jesus Jones, was the theme song of Brown's 1992 presidential campaign.
"My great-grandfather August Schuckman, when he was 26, he left Germany came across the plains, came down to Placerville got a job driving a stagecoach. Went up to Colusa, bought some property in 1862, still have it, still the owner.
"Every time I walk up and down those mountains 12 miles west of Williams, I think of what he went through. He didn't have a Medicare card, he didn't have a doctor. They had to make it through a lot of opposition, they were pioneers. Now the courage and the pioneering spirit that we need is not the same. It's not like being at war; it's not like coming to the state of California right after the Gold Rush.
"But it's equally as difficult, it's composed of a lot of ideologies, a lot of stops and starts and people who see this as a path forward, and someone else says this. I just want to say I've been thinking about this a long time, and I'm going to give you the best that my mind can bring to the table. I'm going to get it done; we'll make compromises when we need.
"We're going to build for the future, we're not going to steal from it, and we're going to know California once again is the example, is the leader and maybe we'll set the example for those folks in Washington to clean up their act as we have cleaned up ours."
Brown continued in this vein as the long holiday weekend began, on Friday morning on the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge, where he took part in the 75th anniversary commemoration of the iconic span.
The bridge opened on May 27th, 1937, completed during the Great Depression. It's an ongoing example of the innovation, daring, and ability to unify that has long marked America.
Brown made a point of noting that the great feat was accomplished at a time which was much tougher than today.
"When we 'couldn't afford it,' we built a great monument," he said, "we invested in the future."
"So don't tell me about how much it's going to cost this year, think about how much will it give us over the next 100 years," he declared.
"We've got to get off this, 'If it isn't built tomorrow or it isn't built now, I'm not going to do it.' We are the result of those who came before us and we're connected to those who come after us."
He's countering, of course, those who do the bidding, wittingly or not, of the old energy economy in opposing investing in high-speed rail, even though the funds to finance a great start to the system are already at hand.
And, in a larger sense, he's countering those who don't grasp that you can plan and build for a smarter and more sustainable future -- which will save money down the line as well -- while exercising discipline on present spending programs. It's a conundrum for those with simpler minds and no sense of history.
And especially no sense of the history of California. Or of Jerry Brown.
You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.
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