Los Angeles, Cal.—Twenty-four years after he left the governorship of California— spending the intervening years as a radio host, attorney, state party chairman, presidential hopeful and mayor of Oakland—Jerry Brown, once dubbed “Governor Moonbeam,” is poised to return to statewide office.
Brown easily won the June 6 Democratic primary for state attorney general.
Should he win in November (and take over a position that his father held for eight years before becoming governor in 1958), the 68-year-old Brown will likely become a national political figure again. He could use the office of attorney general of the nation’s wealthiest and most populous state to advance highly controversial left-wing causes.
As Brown promised at a recent Democratic Party candidates’ forum, “I will be an unusual attorney general.”
“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,” says Ken Khachigian, campaign director for conservative State Sen. Chuck Poochigian, who is the Republican attorney general nominee.
Since the 1960s when he pleaded with his governor-father, Edmund “Pat” Brown, Sr., for the life of long-term death row inmate Caryl Chessman, Brown has been closely identified with opposition to capital punishment. As governor from 1974 to 1982, he consistently vetoed death penalty legislation and appointed state Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird, who overturned every death penalty sentence that ever came to her court. Brown even condemned as “Nazi-style” the lethal-injection execution of “Freeway Killer” William Bonin, who confessed to raping and murdering 21 boys.
Anti-business to the core, Brown has pledged to target California employers if elected. “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,” Brown told students at U.C. Berkeley’s Boalt School of Law.
Brown is also an admirer of the late Communist revolutionary Che Guevara and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. In 2002, he boasted to The Nation magazine that Guevara’s widow gave him an original flag from Castro’s July 26th Movement “one night after I spent eight hours talking to Castro.”
Brown’s penchant for flip-flopping is legendary. After spending time with Mother Teresa in the 1980s, he proclaimed that “the killing of the unborn is crazy” and wrote a letter seeking parole for an anti-abortion activist in prison after more than 130 arrests. But when he was running for state Democratic chairman in 1981, and came under fire from pro-abortion activists, he declared himself in favor of abortion.
As governor in 1978, he opposed the tax ceiling initiative known as Proposition 13. When it passed resoundingly in June of that year, he embraced it and likened its sponsor, Howard Jarvis, to “Free Speech Movement” militant Mario Savio for defying the establishment.
Running in the Democratic presidential primaries in 1992, in a field eventually topped by then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, Brown announced that he would name Rev. Jesse Jackson as his running mate if he were to win the nomination.
Although Brown now aspires to be California’s chief crime prosecutor, the California Department of Justice released a report on April 26 that rated Oakland, the city that Brown serves as mayor, as the least safe major city in California. Oakland’s homicide rate is double that of Los Angeles and four times the state average. The city is also the state’s auto-theft capital.
Far-left former Democratic Rep. Ron Dellums, who was just elected to succeed Brown as mayor of Oakland, said during his campaign: “Crime and violence is a metaphor for everything that is wrong in Oakland.”
But Brown’s website says: “I will lead the fight against crime as I have done as mayor of Oakland.”
Many observers of the California political scene are convinced that if he is elected attorney general this year, Brown will run for governor again in 2010 (when Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, assuming he is re-elected and serves out a full term, will be ineligible to run again).
Brown has comeback before. As he 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.”