Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown warns against ‘scorched earth’ presidential primary

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to reporters in Bakersfield on May 21, 2016.
Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to reporters in Bakersfield on May 21, 2016. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

With Bernie Sanders intensifying his feud with Democratic Party leaders and campaigning furiously in California, Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday appeared to scold his campaign, saying nobody “should be seeking the Democratic nomination with a scorched earth policy.”

Brown, a fourth-term Democrat who has not endorsed in the presidential race, did not name the Vermont senator. But his remarks came after Sanders on Saturday told CNN that he is supporting Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s opponent in the congresswoman’s Florida primary.

“I don’t think anybody should be seeking the Democratic nomination with a scorched earth policy,” Brown told reporters at a United Farm Workers convention here. “At the end of the day, we’ve all got to work together. It’s very important that we beat Donald Trump. That is the overriding imperative for, I think, America, for the party and for organized labor. So, I’ve run insurgency campaigns, and they have to be run in a way that ultimately the Democratic nominee wins.”

Brown, who ran unsuccessfully for president three times, said, “Any time you have a primary, which I’ve been in many times, there’s a great exuberance in getting highly negative, and I think it’s a temptation that should be avoided.”

Sanders’ supporters have long accused the Democratic National Committee of working against Sanders, a claim party leaders deny. Tempers reached new heights in recent days, following a raucous Democratic convention in Nevada.

In remarks to a union that has endorsed Hillary Clinton, Brown called for party unity to defeat Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, and a Republican-controlled Congress “that is totally committed to weakening organized labor.”

“This war against workers will be lost totally if Mr. Trump ever gets elected,” Brown said. “So we’ve got to make sure that it never happens.”

Brown specifically criticized Trump’s release of a list of potential Supreme Court nominees this week, saying “not one of the names that he listed so far is a friend of organized labor.”

Brown’s own relationship with the United Farm Workers union has at times been strained, and it was his first appearance at a UFW convention since returning to office in 2011.

Brown signed the state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act when he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983, and on Saturday he recalled marching with Cesar Chavez, the late labor leader who placed Brown’s name into nomination for president at the 1976 Democratic National Convention.

The crowd of about 600 erupted when Brown left the stage, shouting, “Jerry, Jerry!”

It was only five years ago, however, that UFW members held a vigil outside Brown’s office after he vetoed a bill that would have made it easier to unionize farm workers. Brown later signed a compromise measure, but he would upset the UFW again when he vetoed legislation that would have made it harder for farmers to stall new farm worker contracts.

“We’ve had a relationship with the governor now for the last 44 years,” said Arturo Rodriguez, the UFW president. “And you know, there’s been the pluses and the minuses.”

Rodriguez praised Brown for improving heat safety regulations in California. Brown has also signed legislation benefiting undocumented immigrants, including granting them driver’s licenses, and he has advocated for federal immigration changes that many farm workers support.

“The governor will always do what he thinks is the best for farm workers,” Rodriguez said. “We may agree with him, and we may not. But he will do what he thinks is the best.”

Former President Bill Clinton, campaigning in California for his wife, is scheduled to speak at the union convention on Sunday.

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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