Jerry Brown, a political wunderkind who morphed into California’s crusty elder statesman, entered the record books Tuesday by handily winning a fourth term as governor.
However, whether he also carves out a prominent place in the history books to match his father’s top-tier status remains uncertain.
That depends on whether his third-term actions pan out over the next four years and he can build on them.
Brown, of course, never admits that he returned to the governorship after a 28-year absence to improve his legacy. He would have us believe he was solely re-enlisting for civic duty.
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But he boasts of a “California Comeback” during his return, citing balancing the state budget, reforming education finance, overhauling the prison system, pursuing water stability and championing greenhouse gas reduction.
As voters comfortably re-elected the 76-year-old Brown over token Republican challenger Neel Kashkari on Tuesday, they handed him two more wins by approving a $7.5 billion water bond and a “rainy day” fund to cushion the budget from economic downturns.
With Kashkari presenting no serious obstacle, Brown has not been compelled to lay out a fourth-term agenda, and has been visibly irritated when reporters pressed him about it.
While always eager to dazzle out-of-state scribblers with his erudition, Brown clearly considers California journalists to be pests and became downright peevish when one reporter persisted last week in asking him about his fourth term.
“Look,” he snapped, “you won’t print half of what I say. You won’t. I dare you to, OK? So this whole canard about ‘What are you doing to do, Brown? Think about it’.”
At times, Brown has talked about merely seeing through what he started in 2011, particularly keeping the state budget in balance, noting, “there have never been five years of budget stability in California … so just saying that is like promising what has never been promised before, or at least never delivered.”
On other occasions, however, Brown has hinted that he wants to finish his 16 years as governor with a big bang.
“A fourth term will be very different,” Brown told one group last week, adding, “Now what that will all be, you just, you know, fasten your seat-belt. It will be a very exciting ride.”
Having spent little on re-election, Brown said, he may use leftover campaign funds to “finish with a flourish with some kind of major ballot measure battle that I can’t even conceive of, but between now and then I might be able to imagine, design and execute.”
Could it be a much-needed overhaul of the state’s terribly imbalanced tax system, or some major new assault on global warming, which seems to be Brown’s personal cause?
Brown wasn’t any more forthcoming about his plans Tuesday night. The final chapter of his half-century-long political saga “will emerge,” as Brown once said in a different context.
Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.