Another Shade of Brown?

Twenty-four years after he left the governorship of California — spending years as radio talk show host, occasional attorney, 1992 presidential hopeful, and of late mayor of Oakland (Cal.) — Jerry Brown is poised to return to statewide office in the Golden State. The Democrat once dubbed "Governor Moonbeam" for his unpredictable behavior is the overwhelming favorite to be nominated for state attorney general in the June primary (beginning with his father, the late two-term Gov. Edmund "Pat" Brown, Sr., and then Jerry and his sister, former State Treasurer and 1994 gubernatorial nominee Kathleen Brown, no one in the Brown family has ever lost a Democratic primary for anything in California).  

Should he become the top law enforcement official in America’s largest state (a position held by his father before he became governor), the 68-year-old Brown will almost surely become a national political figure again. With the attorney general’s office involved in measures waging from potential lawsuits against oil company executives to deciding whether the Boy Scouts should receive further legal retribution for barring homosexuals as scoutmasters, Brown could make waves simply by filing amicus curiae briefs on these issues or put the full force of his office behind them. As Brown himself put it at a recent Democratic Party candidates’ forum, "I will be an unusual attorney general." (April 22, 2006).

"People see a colorful character, all right, but if they dig deeper, they will find facts that show him to be dangerous — and facts are stubborn things," observed Ken Khachigian, campaign quarterback for certain GOP attorney general nominee and conservative State Sen. Chuck Poochigian, during a lunch today with three HUMAN EVENTS reporters.

Since he was studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1960 and took a leave from the seminary to plead with his governor-father for the life of long-term death row inmate Caryl Chessman, Jerry Brown has been closely identified with opposition to the capital punishment. As governor from 1974-82, Brown consistently vetoed death penalty legislation and named Chief Justice Rose Bird, who overturned every death penalty sentence. Since then, he has used some of the most shrill invective to articulate his opposition to capital punishment — at one point calling the death penalty "part of a larger pattern that is inhuman" and condemning as "Nazi-style" the execution of William Bonin, who sodomized, strangled and murdered 21 teenage boys.

Brown’s rhetoric on using the office of attorney general to pursue business borders on that of the far-left International Workers of the World. As he told students at Boalt School of Law (March 23, 2006), "Hundreds of thousands of working people are currently exploited and as attorney general I could and will go after employers with our lawyers to enforce the law." The former governor’s penchant for invoking images of Hitler conintue, noting that the promise of modernity, the automobile, and the promise of speed "wasn’t just made by Hilter. It was delivered in the United States by Henry Ford, who was an admirer of the fascist operation."

As much as he invokes Hitler and Nazi Germany in ad hominem political attacks, Brown appears comfortable invoking Communist dictators and thugs. In 2002, he boasted about Che Guevara’s widow giving him an original flag from Fidel Castro’s July 26th Movement "one night after I spent eight hours talking to Castro."

Brown’s penchant for changing on issues and political direction is notorious in the world of Calfornia politics. After meeting Mother Teresa in the 1980s, he publicly proclaimed "the killing of the unborn is crazy" and even wrote a letter seeking parole for an anti-abortion activist in prison after more than 130 arrests. However, as he came under fire from his party’s dominant pro-abortion wing when running for state Democratic chairman in 1988, he ended his pro-life flirtation and declared himself in favor of abortion. As governor in 1978, he opposed the now-famous tax ceiling initiative known as Proposition 13; when it passed resoundingly in June of that year, Brown embraced it and likened "13" father Howard Jarvis to UCLA militant Mario Savio for defying the establishment. Elected chairman of the state Democratic Party in 1988 and vowing to serve a full four-year term, Brown quit after two years out of disgust with the influence of money in politics (at least he claimed that), declared for a Senate seat in 1992, and switched to a run for the Democratic nomination for president (in which he announced during his primary battle with Bill Clinton that he would name Jesse Jackson as his runningmate if nominated).  

Even Brown’s latest incarnation as mayor of Oakland is not without scars. According to a report of the California Department of Justice released on April 26, Oakland is considered the last safe major city in California, with homicide rates double those of Los Angeles and four times the average of the rest of the state. Oakland is also the auto-theft capital of the state and former Rep. Ron Dellums, now running for major of Oakland, is running against the Brown legacy on crime, declaring: "Crime and violence is a metaphor for everything that is wrong in Oakland…Oakland is in a panic about crime."

 From Jerry Brown’s website: "I will lead the fight against crime as I have done as Mayor of Oakland."

Few observers of Golden State politics doubt that, if he is nominated in the Democratic primary next month and elected in the fall over Republican Poochigian, Jerry Brown will run for governor again in 2010 (when Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, assuming he is re-elected and serves out a full term, is ineligible to run again).

But he must first win the office of attorney general and, as Jerry Brown himself told reporters when he ran for state party chairman in 1988: "Yeah, I’ve got some baggage out there…I’ve been doing six years of penance. And I’m asking you to take me back."