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Jerry Brown Hits 74

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California's youngest governor since it was barely a state back in the 19th century turned 74 on Saturday. Jerry Brown, back for a third term after his fascinating two terms as governor in the 1970s and '80s is now California's oldest governor, with little sign of slowing down.

It's not a surprise. Brown's father, the legendary Governor Pat Brown, lived into his 90s and his idea of exercise, in contrast to his very fit son, was splashing around in his pool. Brown's mother, the ever sharp Bernice Brown, also lived into her 90s. And one of the most amusing moments at Brown's third inaugural last year -- in addition to his pointedly intoning that he was of "sound mind" in taking the oath of office to run the chronically troubled Golden State -- was when he made a point of introducing his 99-year old aunt. Some ambitious faces in the front rows fell at that.

Typically, he doesn't have a big party scheduled. Brown has never been one to commemorate his birthday. But it's certainly a time for some contemplation, which in any event is deeply ingrained in the former Jesuit seminarian and Zen expert.

Before he made the final decision to be governor again, Brown, who had won a landslide election as California attorney general in 2006 after serving two terms as mayor of gritty Oakland, considered what it would mean for his life. He could continue in an office he enjoyed, to which he could win an easy re-election, going on leisurely weekend hikes in the Sierra Nevada mountains with his very bright and lively wife, Anne Gust Brown. Or he could jump back into an office and a process, never easy, which had only gotten crazier since his not especially sedate first governorship.

He chose the latter, of course, and after crushing billionaire Meg Whitman and the biggest spending non-presidential campaign in American history, found that the process was more dysfunctional than he had hoped. But, though his plan to quickly solve the state's chronic budget crisis with big budget cuts and tax extensions came up short going on a year ago -- with Brown and Democrats delivering the big cuts but Republicans refusing to even allow a public vote on the revenues -- he's making progress with his revamped plans.

His November revenue initiative, which he had to adjust to the left, is on plan to make the ballot and polls very well.

He and his team have revamped the troubled high-speed rail program, a huge visionary project that will take many years to construct, finding ways to cut the cost and shorten the lengthy time frame.

It accelerates and accordions some of its decades-long development, and cuts the cost of the system by more than $30 billion, back down to $68 billion.

A host of governmental and business leaders expressed their approval. In opposition, only the usual critics chimed in.

The spine of the system, which Brown and the Obama Administration want to begin work on soon, would run from Merced in the northern San Joaquin Valley to the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. With Tea Party and old energy economy forces having shot down President Obama's high-speed rail plans elsewhere, he's eager for California to take its leading role.

Included in the plan would be near term upgrades of rail systems in the San Francisco Bay Area and LA areas to make them compatible with fast rail, and to provide more immediate sweeteners to major population centers from an historic project that will still take decades to complete.

With the funds at hand, construction of the first phase will likely be approved this year.

He's moving forward on his aggressive renewable energy program, building on a foundation laid by predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger. California's renewable energy focus dates back to Brown's first governorship, when the state led the world in that area. Brown former chief of staff Gray Davis revived the focus during his governorship, and Schwarzenegger amped it up tremendously as only he can. Now Brown is back to his original visionary focus on the need for a new energy economy free of the fateful fossil fuel fixation.

Brown also recently sent a major government reorganization plan to the state's oversight Little Hoover Commission which would cut the number of state agencies from 12 to 10 and eliminate many offices and commissions.

The legislature has less than 90 days to block the reorg, if they try to do so.

It's hardly all smooth sailing. In addition to the opposition you can expect from entrenched interests to the shift to new energy and transport systems, Brown is still working his way through a thicket of problems on fiscal matters.

The Republicans are simply the Party of No. Which means that the action moves to the left, something which should be anathema to them if they thought at all in terms of governance. Which they clearly do not.

The state's budget is still rickety and legislative Democrats are balking at Brown's latest cuts, hoping as they historically do that if they play for time the budget will magically get better. That, let's put it this way, hasn't worked in the past. And they are balking at public pension reforms.

Heiress Molly Munger keeps putting money into her doomed tax hike initiative, which would raise income taxes for virtually everyone to fund the schools but do nothing to solve the state's structural deficit. It has no hope of passage.

What is with this antic super-rich behavior? It reminds of the ballyhooed Think Long Committee's plan to lower taxes for the rich and big corporations. Via an initiative! With billionaires involved, a lot of money could have been spent nonetheless to muddy the waters. Fortunately, unlike the case with Munger, it only took a matter of weeks to convince the gathered worthies of something that should have taken 45 minutes; namely, to regroup for another day.

But I don't expect the Munger initiative to end up being a major problem for Brown.

So, on balance, things are going rather well for Jerry Brown on his birthday weekend as he continues to follow his watchwords, "Age quod agis."

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.

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