Huffpost Los Angeles
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

William Bradley Headshot

The Jerry Brown Era Unfolds (Again)

Posted: Updated:

And he is off and running as governor of California. Again. The first week of Jerry Brown's governorship told us a lot, and set the stage for the second week, in which a hellacious state budget proposal is dominating.

First, let's look at that, and then at the first week of the Brown governorship as he took over from Arnold Schwarzenegger. A week that was telling and even, in its way, festive. At least at first.

Few if any areas of California's state budget will be spared, when all is said and done. Brown is banking on such things being more palatable to Democratic legislators in January than it was in December for a few reasons.

Jerry Brown was sworn in to a record third term as governor of California last week, drawing roars of laughter from the inaugural crowd when he declared, in the midst of the oath of office, that he really had no mental reservation about taking on the office.

The fact that he is not Schwarzenegger will help. As will his plan to eliminate a corporate loophole and enterprise zones and to extend vehicle, income, and sales taxes expiring this year in a June special election. And perhaps his plan to realign services, returning funding responsibility for many to the local level. Over 70% of state spending actually goes to local services, as a result of the state bailout of local government after Prop 13 caused a terrible crisis in funding. If it's clearer to the public that the services are local, it may be easier to get revenue for them.

But will Brown get any Republican help? Grover Norquist's anti-government group back in Washington -- which busily browbeats Republicans into signing no-tax pledges -- is "ruling" that allowing the people to vote on taxes constitutes support for taxes.

Because they're all about democracy, you see.

We'll see if Brown is able to get beyond the usual tedious trench warfare that characterizes Sacramento's political culture. Perhaps looming disaster, which really doesn't have to happen, will concentrate the mind. And perhaps most are just locked in to their rote talking points.

"What we're doing is we're cutting, we're extending taxes, and we're restructuring. And I believe that's the way to go. It's gonna be objected to, but I believe there will be even more who will say, 'Thank God, we're finally facing the music.'"

- Governor Jerry Brown in his first press conference, this time around.

The first Brown state budget proposal for California has very big cuts, some $12.5 billion worth, a realignment/devolution of many services from the state to the local level, elimination of enterprise zones and a diversion of redevelopment funds, and an extension of 2009 tax hikes on vehicles, income, and sales for another five years during the workout of state finances, as well as elimination of a recent corporate tax break.

Major spending reductions include $1.7 billion from Medi-Cal, $1.5 billion from California's welfare-to-work program (CalWORKs), $750 million from the Department of Developmental Services, $500 million from the University of California, $500 million from California State University, and $308 million from a 10 percent reduction in take-home pay for state employees not currently covered under collective bargaining agreements. (The Schwarzenegger Administration already negotiated similar pay cuts from the rest of the state workforce.) Brown also says that he plans to trim state government operations by $200 million through a variety of efficiencies that a few years ago might have been described as "blowing up boxes."

Part 1 of Jerry Brown's third Inaugural Address.

The revenues amount to $12 billion, and will require a June special election. If the initiative fails, says Brown, "double the cuts I outlined today."

Brown intends to get the cuts adopted as a matter of statute in the next 60 days to establish the bona fides of the plan for the special election.

How will the initiative, which seems to require a two-thirds legislative vote, get on the ballot? Brown says he hopes for Republican votes, and "a bipartisan solution." Can it get on the ballot through another means? Quite likely. But Brown won't talk about that now.

Reaction fell along boringly predictable lines. The state's anti-government lobby, which dominates the Republican Party, is death against any taxes and wants more cuts. What cuts? As has been the case for years, they don't want to say. The state's ultra-government faction is very unhappy, but doesn't see any realistic alternative.

You can check out the Brown budget proposal at ebudget.ca.gov.

Brown characterized his tax proposal as an extension of existing rates rather than a tax increase. But while that works for sales and car tax rates, which expire at the end of June, businesses are withholding less from paychecks because income tax rates went down at the beginning of the year.

So why not substitute another, more popular, tax, for the income tax surcharge? Say an oil severance tax?

Perhaps Brown is looking to forge a grand alliance with business to rescue the state. But minimizing the base of potential voter opposition is seldom a bad idea.

Brown is spending a lot of time in private meetings with legislators from both parties, trying for agreement. Don't bet on a lot of that.

While Brown's sense of humor and candor is entertaining even to those who disagree with him, what partying there was to be had for the early part of this year was dispensed with early last week, Brown's third Inaugural Week.

Brown, typically, didn't do some things he was expected to do and did do others. He showed for the Inaugural Ceremony, naturally, and his official Inaugural Reception, as well as a few other private events he was expected at, but did not show at some things where he was expected.

Interestingly, Brown's inauguration team, with head advance people Wally McGuire, Jim Suennen, and Lynn Sadler, watched my video of Schwarzenegger's 2007 inaugural to get a sense of how the ceremony played in venerable Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, across the street from Jerry and Anne Gust Brown's new loft apartment. They also reviewed Schwarzenegger's official video, but it doesn't show the hall as much and only very fleetingly showed the slide projected behind the stage proclaiming the Inauguration of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger 2007, which ended up as a model for Brown's own logo proclaiming the Inauguration of Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. 2011.

Part 2 of Jerry Brown's Inaugural Address.

The truth is that Brown regards these occasions as something of a useful nuisance. This inauguration turned out to be much like his 2007 inauguration as California's attorney general. Brown was sworn in in the Rotunda at San Francisco City Hall, then walked across the street for his inaugural reception, then drove over to Nob Hill for a small dinner with family and a few friends at the Huntington Hotel.

As for his inaugural address, Brown received ideas and material from a number of friends in his personal network and wrote the final text himself. He was still preparing and practicing not long before he delivered it, arriving on time in a small black sedan with longtime advisor Tom Quinn, his original campaign manager when he was first elected California's governor in 1974.

Brown made clear that the narrative of the present crisis is only part of the larger narrative of California. In his inaugural address, he wove the story of the Brown family with the story of California. Throughout it all seeing the sweep of history, with boom and bust, but ultimately always moving forward.

You can read the text of Brown's inaugural address here on New West Notes.

Brown's Inaugural Reception at the California Railroad Museum, in the late afternoon and evening, was a gathering of the tribes, a place to see a seemingly endless procession of noteworthy people from many eras in California's modern history.

Among those seated in the front row for Brown's barebones Inaugural Ceremony were outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver, former Governor Gray Davis (Brown's gubernatorial chief of staff) and First Lady Sharon Davis, outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who got her start in politics when Brown made her Northern California chair of the Democratic Party) and Paul Pelosi, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and her husband, Dick Blum, former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, former state Controller Steve Westly (one of Brown's, and President Obama's, biggest backers) and outgoing San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, now California's lieutenant governor.

When I saw Schwarzenegger at the inaugural, he was in a very chipper mood, adjusting my tie which had evidently come slightly askew as I jogged up the street to the auditorium. I ended up walking out of the auditorium, which he'd entered as governor, with him to his final gubernatorial motorcade. What he said is, as the saying goes, for the book.

Kathleen Brown, the former state treasurer, seemed in a pensive mood at the inaugural, happy for her brother and perhaps thinking of what might have been. Had she waited four years to run, rather than take on incumbent Governor Pete Wilson -- who thereupon seized on the draconian anti-illegal immigrant initiative Proposition 187 to come from behind for a big re-election win in 1994 -- she might very well have been governor herself. And Jerry Brown might never have had the opportunity to run again.

First Lady Anne Gust Brown, the only other speaker at the inaugural as she introduced her husband, was in a familiar bantering mode, beset by all in her new dual role as first lady and chief advisor to her husband the governor.

Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez, was absolutely thrilled. She called the return of Brown, whom she's backed since 1974, a dream come true.

Jerry Brown's 2007 inauguration as California attorney general, in an echoing and lighting challenged San Francisco City Hall Rotunda, with the inaugural reception and behind the scenes footage.

Gray Davis was notably less emotive, but still very happy in his way. As Schwarzenegger, with whom he became friendly in spite of the recall, was whipsawed by many of the same forces that affected his own governorship, he feels somewhat vindicated. At the least, given the dysfunctionality of the state's political system, the governorship is a very tough job.

Westly was also very pleased. The Silicon Valley venture capitalist will have a lot on his hands with Obama's re-election ramping up. So he won't have much time to hang out with his old eBay colleague, Meg Whitman, presuming she would be in the mood.

What everyone marveled at was how simple and quick the inaugural ceremony was. One compared it to going to a movie with no lines to wait in. It seemed to portend a substantially less produced governorship than Schwarzenegger's.

What it did not portend, since it was right on time, was the return of Jerry Standard Time. That came later.

As I walked in to the inaugural reception, 45 minutes later than I'd planned, Roger Salazar, co-director of the principal anti-Meg Whitman independent expenditure committee during the utterly crucial period between the June primary election and the ramping up of Brown's own campaign on Labor Day weekend, asked if I knew where Brown was. He was half an hour late. With the campaign past, I told Salazar he could be anywhere, and that trying to keep track of his physical movements was a fool's errand best left to staffers and beat reporters. He laughed.

When Jerry and Anne Brown did show up, they were in fine form, moving throughout the roomy railroad museum filled with hundreds of well-wishers, historic locomotives, and fine, down-to-earth foods from a host of local purveyors and farmers' markets.

At Schwarzenegger's first inaugural, Brown attended by himself and asked me at the tony Sutter Club luncheon just after the movie star's swearing in ceremony where I was finding the best delicacies.

Seven years later, Brown celebrated, as it were, at his own Inaugural Reception with a salad. Which he was not notably thrilled to have me film while he ate. Brown, like Schwarzenegger, is an ebullient character ... to a point. At which he can turn flinty, whereas Schwarzenegger turns sardonic. But it doesn't tend to last, a fortunate thing given the preposterous crisis he now must solve.

Tom Quinn, Brown's advisor since 1969, who'd arrived at the inaugural with Brown after helping him with a last run-through of the speech a few blocks away, was still on at the reception, asking if I knew where he could get an ice cold diet coke. Caffeine is still the currency of politics.

His old colleague Jodie Evans, my old pal from Brown's 1992 presidential campaign -- she was Brown's campaign manager and delivered his nominating speech at the Democratic national convention in New York -- was notably less concerned with caffeine intake. She was excited about my recent piece on Brown's notorious yet prescient 1980 presidential campaign speech, "The Shape of Things To Come," which Francis Ford Coppola produced as a live television broadcast during the Wisconsin presidential primary. And she was marveling how her old office in the Governor's Office seemingly hadn't changed. But what she'd just seen was the sad stripped-down version, not the rich clutter of the Schwarzenegger days.

As things wound down, I walked out with Gray and Sharon Davis. The former governor was in a pensive mood as he left for the airport.

He's guardedly optimistic that Brown, in this moment of political crisis, can move beyond the intractable and implacable forces that placed his governorship, and to a large extent, Schwarzenegger's, in a vice.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's second Inaugural, on the same site as Jerry Brown's Inaugural.

Time, as the saying goes, will tell.

You'll notice one staple of inaugural celebrations that I have not mentioned. Celebrities. Aside from Schwarzenegger, there were none.

It's not as though Brown doesn't have celebrity friends. This is a politician who, at various times, has been the toast of Hollywood. The Queen of Rock, Linda Ronstadt, was his long-term girlfriend. The most popular American band in history, the Eagles, were staples of his political campaigns. Iron Man himself, Mr. Tony Stark (known in some circles as Robert Downey, Jr.) was at a Brown fundraiser last year for his charter schools. Francis Ford Coppola helped again in this campaign with Brown's TV advertising.

But this is a time of austerity.

I talked over New Year's weekend with Brown's old friend Warren Beatty, whose wife, Annette Bening, made her first political speech at a Kathleen Brown dinner in the early 1990s. Beatty, who'd planned to attend Brown's victory party in November before finding himself stuck in New York, felt that celebrities would distract from the rather arduous task Brown has before him.

It was a good call, even if it did make Brown's inaugural less fun than it could have been.

Perhaps his next inaugural will come in a better time. Actually, it had better.

Late last Wednesday afternoon, Brown finally made appointments to his senior staff in the horseshoe, as the California Governor's Office is known. It looks like a good group, with a persuasive blend of youth and experience, which is needed in keeping up with Brown.

After much speculation, and my early morning Inaugural Day report that First Lady Anne Gust Brown would double as chief of staff to the governor, he has no chief of staff per se. (Her title as chief of staff was also on the new governor's web site from shortly after midnight on the day of his inauguration until mid-afternoon, when it was finally taken off, as a mistake.) He has two executive secretaries and a special counsel. Or perhaps he has a special counsel and two executive secretaries.

Brown, who memorably declared at his 2007 inauguration as California's attorney general that "if you can't get in to see her (Anne Gust Brown), you can't get in to see me" had mused repeatedly about having no chief of staff. Or of having a de facto chief of staff but calling the position "executive secretary," That's what the top hand in the Governor's Office was known as in the days of his father, Governor Pat Brown, with Hale Champion and Fred Dutton (who I knew, and who later was a top presidential campaign operator for John and Robert Kennedy) holding the title. The title continued through Ronald Reagan's governorship into Jerry Brown's first governorship, where at first it was held by Gray Davis. But the title evolved into that of chief of staff, reflecting the situation in the White House and elsewhere.

Jerry Brown shows me family memorabilia and art in his Oakland loft in 2006.

Actually, as something of a connoisseur of titles, I think that executive secretary is a clunker. It still has political usage outside the US, but in the US the title today generally means something else entirely, i.e., a confidential secretary to a high-level executive who is also an administrative assistant. But perhaps that is part of the point.

In the event, Brown has not one but two executive secretaries, now former Chief Deputy Attorney General Jim Humes and Nancy McFadden, who was senior advisor to Governor Gray Davis and deputy chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore before becoming a senior vice president of Pacific Gas & Electric. Humes, who is not especially political, will handle administration and legal affairs and will share policy with McFadden, who will handle legislation and appointments. Humes is a career Department of Justice lawyer promoted after Brown became state attorney general in 2007. McFadden has not previously been involved with Brown.

Anne Gust Brown will be special counsel, a title which, as a connoisseur, I very much like. (She will also be a volunteer.) Last month she told the Sacramento Bee that she would likely be called special advisor to the governor. But in Brown's first administration, Whole Earth Catalogue publisher Stewart Brand was special advisor. Special advisor carries the connotation of either special projects or a unique portfolio. Gust Brown's role is far more wide-ranging than that. Counselor to the governor would be a very appropriate title, but would ignite a snark-fest. Special counsel is the title that was held by Ted Sorensen in John F. Kennedy's White House. Sorensen, in addition to being a speechwriter, was essentially Kennedy's intellectual alter ego, with a wide-ranging portfolio. He was also, like Gust Brown, a lawyer.

There were a host of other senior staffers appointed. As I expected, Brown's campaign did not prove to be a launching pad for senior staff posts in the Governor's Office. After weeks without a press secretary -- Sterling Clifford, who turned in a stalwart performance in the campaign, decided against making the move due to family considerations -- Brown now has one again, after others filled in during the absence. Of course, Brown has had a great many press secretaries over the years, so many it's become something of a running gag.

One of Brown's former mayoral press secretaries in Oakland, Gil Duran, who went on to be press secretary for LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and communications director for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, is the governor's new press secretary. He is being aided by deputy press secretaries Elizabeth Ashford and Evan Westrup. Ashford worked in the press department for Schwarzenegger before becoming a top aide to the chairman of Britain's Conservative Party and an executive in London's top financial PR firm. Westrup actually was in Brown's campaign as deputy press secretary. Before that, he also worked for Schwarzenegger.

LA lawyer Josh Groban, the Brown campaign's legal counsel, is senior advisor for policy appointments. Julie Henderson, who worked with Gust Brown at The Gap as vice president and associate general counsel and then served as special assistant attorney general, is a senior advisor for policy. Jonathan Renner, who was senior assistant attorney general for government law, is the governor's legal affairs secretary.

And Nick Velasquez is the governor's director of external affairs. He was a deputy campaign manager of Brown for Governor, and before that was press secretary for LA City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and state Controller Steve Westly.

Notwithstanding Brown's post-partisan positioning, they are all Democrats, like every other appointment Brown has made so far.

But it's not necessarily a liberal lovefest.

For example, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that McFadden, the former senior Gore and Davis aide who became a vice president of one of the biggest utilities in the country, was the mastermind of PG&E's initiative last June to block local governments from getting more renewable energy for their communities. The $46 million campaign, which Brown opposed, was narrowly defeated.

And as those who followed the Gulf oil disaster know, Ashford, in her PR work for London's Brunswick Group, served as spokesperson for BP until the month before last.

Hey, at least they have a lot of experience trying to sell a controversial position.

"Hasta la vista, baby." Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger turns out the light in his office and walks into, well, not the sunset exactly, but you get the gist. This was actually shot on December 20th, his final day in the Governor's Office. The picture to the left of frame is a Warhol portrait of Maria Shriver.

Brown set the stage last week for the austerity budget to come by cutting the budget of the Governor's Office by 25%. He also announced that he spent only 16% of the funds allocated for his transition.

Brown completely eliminated the Office of the Secretary of Education and the Office of the First Lady. He eliminated the position of cabinet secretary in the Governor's Office -- heretofore the gubernatorial liaison to the the Cabinet and agencies -- and all deputy cabinet secretaries. He also greatly cut back the governor's staff in Washington, completely eliminated the satellite offices in San Diego, Riverside, and Fresno, and ended the inspector general program for federal stimulus funding a half-year early.

In addition, Brown, who's been known to write his own press releases, cut the gubernatorial press and communications staff.

Brown, who essentially directed his own campaign and became a very hands-on mayor in Oakland, wants a flattened hierarchy, which accounts for the elimination of the cabinet secretary operation.

These various cuts save a little over $7 million, but deliver a strong message from the top.

And he announced several other appointments to his new administration, four to his Cabinet and seven to the state Board of Education.

The four appointments to the Brown Cabinet were all expected: Former state Assemblyman and Santa Cruz Mayor John Laird, a staunch lefty, is secretary of the Resources Agency. former Brown Administration personnel chief Marty Morgenstern is secretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency. Attorney Ronald Yank, who has represented prison guards and firefighters in contract negotiations, is director of the Department of Personnel Administration. And Mary Nichols, Schwarzenegger's appointee as chair of the Air Resources Board, remains in that role, which she first played under Brown.

While Schwarzenegger was in fine form at Brown's Inaugural, where he received praise, publicly and privately, from the new governor, he didn't exactly stick the landing at the end of his seven year-plus tenure as governor of California.

Things went smoothly enough for the action movie superstar in the run-up to Brown's inaugural. In the December Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll, Schwarzenegger's job approval, once down in the low 20s, rebounded to a more respectable, at least for this troubled time, 32%.

But the day before Schwarzenegger ended as governor, he made a few moves that have caused a lot of controversy.

Schwarzenegger issued some pardons and sentence commutations. One, for a woman who at 16 had killed her abusive pimp, won plaudits. Another, for the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, stirred up a storm of controversy.

Esteban Nunez had gotten himself in a very serious late night rumble two years ago in San Diego, which reports indicate he helped instigate. At the end of it, a young man was stabbed to death, though not by Nunez himself. Escaping a murder charge, Nunez was nonetheless convicted of manslaughter and given a 16-year sentence. Schwarzenegger commuted that to seven years.

The elder Nunez, of course, was a close ally of Schwarzenegger, after first being his principal antagonist. Naturally, the victim's family and many others cried political favoritism in Schwarzenegger's move. Meanwhile, some Latinos, noting that the prosecutor is an Anglo Republican, say that the younger Nunez was singled out for a maximum sentence.

The other side of the coin of midnight controversy for Schwarzenegger's ending in office consists of appointments, some of them very lucrative, to various associates, drawing some fire from Common Cause and other reformers who've worked with Schwarzenegger.

Former chief of staff Susan Kennedy and former state health secretary Kim Belshe were both named to the board of the California Health Benefit Exchange, which will oversee the implementation of the national health care reform bill in California. Those posts are unpaid.

In addition, Kennedy, according to Brown sources who do not include the governor, was interested in being appointed Brown's secretary of business, transportation, and housing. That appointment was described as unlikely.

So Schwarzenegger went ahead and appointed Kennedy's spouse, Vicki Marti, to two state commissions dealing with health issues, the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board and the Medical Assistance Commission. The combined annual pay for these posts is nearly $170,000.

Kari Miner, the interior decorator wife of former top Schwarzenegger aide Paul Miner, was appointed to a $128,000 a year post on the Public Employee Relations Board. Ironically, Miner, now a lobbyist for General Electric, was the guiding force behind Schwarzenegger's "blow up the boxes" California Performance Review, which proposed to eliminate most such commission posts.

There were several other similar appointments, including those of three ex-state senators.

Schwarzenegger is generous with friends. Perhaps, in addition to being careful what he gives, his friends should be careful what they ask.

A cautionary tale for the new/old governor. Not that he hasn't seen all this before.


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