Jerry Brown was just 44 years old in 1982 but had already served two terms as governor of California, run for president twice and seen his bid for a U.S. Senate seat resoundingly rejected.
Were he to seek the governorship again, a somewhat chastened Brown said after losing the Senate race, “I would try to be less interesting, more boring, more conciliatory. I would spend more time talking to groups like this and less time talking to Zen Buddhists, astronauts and rock stars.”
Brown took his own advice, running for governor again in 2010 and winning a historic fourth term in 2014 as a conventional, seasoned politician – a true son of Pat Brown – who’d concentrate on nuts-and-bolts governance, not take extraterrestrial flights of philosophical fancy.
Thus, the 76-year-old Brown, who as a young politician sneered at “multipoint programs,” began his fourth term Monday with a 23-minute speech that referred to his father’s 1959 inaugural address and combined self-congratulation with a multipoint agenda for the next four years.
“In 2011, we were handed a mess,” Brown said, “and through solid, steady work, we turned it around. While we have not reached the promised land, we have much to be proud of.”
Other than that hanging preposition, there was absolutely nothing in the speech unpredictable to anyone who’s paid attention to Brown in the last few years, as its final passage demonstrated.
“Yes, California feeds on change and great undertakings,” Brown said, “but the path of wisdom counsels us to ground ourselves and nurture carefully all that we have started.”
It was somewhat disappointing that Brown, having run his last race for governor, did not revive the more unpredictable, experimental ambiance of his earlier governorship because California needs a political and economic shakeup.
For example, while Brown hailed the state’s emergence from the Great Recession, citing a five-point drop in the unemployment rate, he could – and should – have at least mentioned that it’s still the nation’s third highest and that we’re No. 1 in “labor underutilization” and poverty, as newly defined by the Census Bureau.
He mentioned in passing that 12.2 million Californians – nearly a third of the state’s population – will be enrolled in Medi-Cal by the end of this year, but should have portrayed it as an indication of California’s deep economic malaise, not simply a fiscal problem to be managed.
Perhaps Brown’s retreat into risk-averse conventionality merely reflects the fact that he’s 76 now, not a 36-year-old political wunderkind, and is focused on his place in the history books.
Perhaps, too, it means that he hasn’t run his last race – that he still sees a Senate seat in his future should Dianne Feinstein retire in 2018 – and thus he should continue to be, as he said in 1982, “less interesting, more boring.”
Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.