Dan Walters

Opinion: Could Anne Gust Brown be the next governor?

Attorney General Kamala Harris takes the oath of Attorney General in the courtyard at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento on January 5, 2015.
Attorney General Kamala Harris takes the oath of Attorney General in the courtyard at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento on January 5, 2015. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Let’s assume – at least for this missive – that two years hence, Kamala Harris will have begun her new job: U.S. senator.

It’s a reasonable assumption because it’s increasingly unlikely that a heavyweight challenger from either party will be a major impediment for Harris as she claims the Senate seat that Barbara Boxer is giving up.

As she takes her seat in the Senate, of course, Harris would resign as attorney general midway through her second term, which coincides with the midway point in Jerry Brown’s fourth and final term as governor.

Brown would name Harris’ successor as attorney general – subject to confirmation by the Legislature – and therefore could potentially set up someone to succeed him as governor two years later.

Serving as attorney general is California’s most obvious path to the governorship. Not only did Brown and his father both hold the position on their way to the governor’s suite (Jerry Brown for the second time), but Republican George Deukmejian made it in 1982. In fact, every attorney general of the last 40 years, except Harris and Bill Lockyer, has run for governor.

Brown could, of course, opt for a caretaker – someone to fill the position without having the overt ambition to continue – although once in office seemingly temporary appointees sometimes catch the bug.

A caretaker appointment would make other potential 2018 candidates for governor very happy – especially Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who’s already off and running, but possibly other second-tier politicians such as Treasurer John Chiang, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, or San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Were Brown to give someone a leg up on succeeding him with an appointment as attorney general, however, who might it be? We’re now in the netherworld of rumor and speculation.

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones is believed to be interested in an appointment (or running for AG in 2018), but his relationship with Brown has not been exactly warm.

Another option might be Darrell Steinberg, who as president pro tem of the Senate was a Brown ally and who makes no secret of his desire to remain in politics.

However, the rumor mill’s most intriguing name is Anne Gust Brown, the governor’s wife and his most influential aide during both his governorship and his previous stint as attorney general.

She is a former corporate attorney who has the requisite legal credentials. Making her attorney general and a putative candidate for governor – backed by Brown’s ability to raise big money – could allow the governor to, in effect, defy term limits that otherwise would force him out in 2018.

The Browns might continue doing business as a team, nurturing pet legacy projects such as the bullet train.


Perhaps, but Jerry Brown is always difficult to predict. And he would have much to gain and almost nothing to lose.

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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