Friday, November 20, 2009

Jerry Brown 1.0

"First, think clearly; then ask a lot of questions." - CA Gov. Jerry Brown, 1975

This seems like a good time to make use of one of the better brief descriptions I've seen of Jerry Brown's first Governorship of 1975-83. It comes from Neal Peirce and Jerry Hagstrom, The Book of America: Inside 50 States Today (1983). Jerry's second term ended in early 1983, so they were reviewing his whole governorship. He had run for the US Senate in 1982 on an assertively liberal program against Pete Wilson, who would later go on to brand the California Republican Party as the anti-Latino Party.

As they explain, Jerry was a leader in creating a post-Sixties version of progressive politics and programs. And, amazing as it seems now that California has turned into a model of dysfunctional state government, he was able to achieve some important innovations in environmental protection, supporting the farm workers' right to organize and bringing much greater diversity into state government. How some Democratic progressives today can look back at this record and see something other than a liberal Democrat, I'm not really sure:

Like his father, Jerry Brown was elected as a Democrat, but there the similarities stopped. The young bachelor Brown (he was born in 1938) refused to move into the huge governor's mansion Reagan had built, rode in a Plymouth instead of a chauffeured limousine, and occasionally retreated to a Zen Buddhist monastery to meditate (he had studied in a Jesuit seminary before entering Yale Law School). But despite this seemingly ascetic lifestyle, he also broke with politicians' conventional discretion to travel to Africa with his companion, rock singer Linda Ronstadt. Intellectually, Brown symbolized his generation's dissatisfaction with big institutions and megasolutions. He set up the nation's first Office of Appropriate Technology to explore and test such concepts as environmental and climatically designed buildings, including wind power and solar heating, bioconversion (using waste to produce energy) and home organic farming to increase people's self-sufficiency. He launched California onto an energy conservation path unequalled by any other state, consistently opposed nuclear power, maintained the nation's toughest air and water pollution standards and laws against toxic wastes, and created the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, which leaned to the left in its regulation of farm-labor relations. He made precedent-shattering appointments of women, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, who received 50 percent of his 6,000-plus executive appointments and 40 percent of those he made to the courts. [my emphasis]
On Tuesday of this week, Attorney General Brown moved to take toys that could poison children out of stores as the holiday buying season descends upon us, as Mark Glover reports in Stores must remove lead-laced toys, says Attorney General Brown Sacramento Bee 11/19/09. He was aggressively pro-consumer as Governor, as well, as Peirce and Hagstrom describe:

The "old boy networks" of white males were closed out. Hundreds of laypersons were placed on California's 41 consumer boards, breaking the monopoly control of groups—from doctors to engineers—who've often used the state's regulatory boards for their professions' interests rather than the public interest. Brown ended up with five women in his ten-member cabinet — not to mention his highly controversial appointment of a liberal female lawyer, Rose Elizabeth Bird, as California's chief justice. In the last weeks of Brown's governorship, we asked him the rationale of his appointments approach. His reply: "to make government a mirror image of what society is" in a state with millions of working women and fast-rising numbers of minorities and the foreign born. His appointees' skills, Brown admitted, often weren't the highest. But the alternative was to leave a "dying" white male coalition in power. "I came down on the side of opening a window to the future." [my emphasis]
Rose Bird, California's first female chief justice, became a special target of Republicans because she led the State Supreme Court to hold that the death penalty violated the California state constitution and ended it. A ballot initiative later restored it, a measure that Jerry opposed despite its high popularity. Rose Bird later wound up being rejected for re-election to the Court in 1986. The Republicans led a high-visibility campaign against her, focusing on their objections to her decisions and her death penalty ruling, in particular. This San Francisco Examiner obituary for her gives more background: Ex-Chief Justice Rose Bird dies by Larry Hatfield 12/05/1999. The following year, conservatives whined mightily that the Democratic Senate rejected President Ronald Reagan's nomination of rightwing ideologue Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. After the right's aggressive pursuit of Rose Bird, I didn't feel the least sorry for them. Actually, the Republicans are still whining about Bork's rejection.

Rose Bird, California's first female chief justice, appointed by Jerry Brown

Ah, the memories: in those days, the Democratic Party was actually able to reject a poor Republican nominee to the Supreme Court. Hard to imagine, I know, but it actually happened! And even more amazing, six Republican Senators voted against St. Reagan's nominee! We've gone through the looking glass since then.

Jerry also made other reforms, including an effort to control rising medical costs:

Brown authored a state urban policy to revitalize inner cities and discourage wasteful sprawl — a first in any Sunbelt state. He inaugurated an energy and resources fund, financed from tidelands oil revenues, to foster California fisheries, reforestation, soil conservation, wetlands, and coastal protection. He cajoled government pension funds to invest mote (up to $900 million a year) in California housing and economic enterprises, rather than distant investments irrelevant to the state's economic future. Enamored of high technology, which he believed must be a linchpin of both California and national economic growth strategies, he created an industrial innovation commission (including many successful high-tech entrepreneurs), which recommended "a new governing coalition between business, labor, academia and government" to foster growth industries and dominate international markets in such cutting-edge areas as semiconductors, computers, telecommunications, robotics, and biotechnology. Brown argued that radically improved scientific education in schools and colleges, combined with ambitious workers retraining, was imperative for state and national economic survival. He gave energy and direction to a highly innovative California Conservation Corps for young people. Belatedly, he tried to tame soaring health costs through a "czar" to prenegotiate economical doctor and hospital rates, on a competitive basis, for patients of the state-subsidized "MediCal" system. [my emphasis]

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