Jack Ohman

Letters of recommendation for Brown and Newsom

When Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom aren’t trying to oh-so-politely hip-check each other, they sometimes come together to share experiences. Now they are allies in their contretemps (not Latin, sorry) with UC President Janet Napolitano, who seems to be intent on making sure that leather-digital package 2015 Cadillac Escalades are provided to each associate chancellor for communications.

Brown and Newsom took to reminiscing about their experiences with college recommendation letters recently in separate but very telling incidents.

Newsom, who allowed as how he didn’t think his SAT scores “broke 1,000,” observed at a UC Board of Regents meeting that Brown wrote him a recommendation letter so he could get into Santa Clara University on a partial baseball scholarship.

Brown told a “little secret” about how he got into Yale Law School, which clearly is the institution of choice for senior judgeships in California. Sorry, Stanford. Nice try, Boalt. In your dreams, Hastings. McGeorge? Take a number.

Brown said that former California Chief Justice Roger Traynor “wrote a letter saying I was going to become a great legal scholar, and I always felt that was the deciding factor that got me in.” Brown added, “Of course, Justice Traynor was appointed by my father.”


Newsom’s father William, a close friend of Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, was also a major political wheel at the time. He also got then-San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to appoint his son to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1997. Fine. We all have fathers. Most of them aren’t governors or besties with governors, but we all muddle through.

My father went to the University of Minnesota and got a Ph.D. There was absolutely no discussion in my house about where I was going to attend college, and even less about a recommendation letter. You needed a 2.0 to get into the St. Paul campus at the U of M, and my recommendation letters probably would have read something like this:

“Jack is probably sentient. He draws little pictures of Nixon, Ford and Carter on the margins of his hastily written, white-out-splotched term papers, so we marked him down for neatness. He does have very nice hair.”

It goes without saying that a Yale Law School admission letter hardly had to accompany Jerry Brown’s 1961 law school application.

“Guy here applying to law school. His name is Edmund G. Brown Jr.”

“Probably no relation, I’m sure. Just in case, let’s look at his recommendation letters.”

Not that Jerry Brown would not have made a fine legal scholar. He’s done very well in life. Newsom, on the other hand, certainly had a leg up with his baseball prowess, and I am certain that Brown (stay with me, I know this is confusing) didn’t think a thing about writing him a recommendation letter for some goofball son of a pal of his old man’s. Newsom said that he thought it was a form letter.

I wonder what kind of a recommendation letter Brown would write for Newsom now?

Friends, Romans, Countrymen:

Gavin Newsom is what we Yale Law School graduates call an “attractive nuisance.” Although the lieutenant governor’s baseball skills may have slipped a bit, I am sure he will make a fine college student, even though his SAT scores are in the high three figures. He more than makes up for his academic deficit by sheer charm, and they don’t teach that in college, baby.

Ave atque vale,

Edmund G. Brown Jr.

Now that Newsom is in a position to write a college recommendation letter himself, I wonder what he’d write about Brown?

Academic Citizenville:

While Gov. Brown was born during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second term, he is remarkably spry and would make an excellent mature student. While his baseball skills probably center on not being able to find the buttons on the remote to get to ESPN “SportsCenter,” I think he will be a fine addition to any Latin language program you may have.


Gavin Newsom