Bill Whalen

If Gov. Brown insists on traveling, here’s where he should go

Gov. Jerry Brown, left, chats with China’s Science and Technology Minister Wan Gang as they attend the Clean Energy Ministerial International Forum at a hotel in Beijing on June 6.
Gov. Jerry Brown, left, chats with China’s Science and Technology Minister Wan Gang as they attend the Clean Energy Ministerial International Forum at a hotel in Beijing on June 6. AP

After six years of rarely venturing beyond California, Jerry Brown is spreading his wings. Earlier this month, it was a quick trip to an economic conference in Vladivostok, Russia. In November, he’s off to Germany for a U.N. conference on climate change.


I have nothing against the governor broadening his horizons. My former boss, Pete Wilson, talked trade on the other side of the Pacific Rim near the end of his second term. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s seven years in office read like a Lonely Planet guide – “work abroad” took him to Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and world cities too numerous to list here.

Still, a word of caution: For California governors, leaving the state is playing with political fire. Parts of the Southland were still aflame while Brown rubbed elbows in Russia.

So if the governor wants to continue exploring life beyond Sacramento, here are some domestic destinations:

Seattle. Brown should take a California delegation to Amazon to make the case for the retail giant’s second North American headquarters and its 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in capital spending. What a nice close to his political career if Brown could bring Amazon to Oakland, his mayoral stomping grounds. Cherry on the sundae: persuading billionaire Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to buy the A’s and give the good people of the East Bay a proper ballpark.

Austin and Tallahassee. It’s time for big-blue California to bury the hatchet with America’s red giant. With Rick Perry no longer the West Coast-loathing governor, the Lone Star State can teach California a thing or two about economic growth and affordable housing. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott and his emergency team were prepared and steady in the face of Hurricane Irma, and open to out-of-state help, including Bay Area PG&E workers.

Could California pass the same test if, like Florida, most of the state’s population lost its electricity? Brown could get the answer to that by traveling to …

Paso Robles. The scene of a 6.5-magnitude earthquake in 2003, the city is also midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco’s city halls. Though Brown has had to contend with hardship and near-calamities – the historic drought and Oroville Dam – he’s governing on borrowed time. There hasn’t been a calamitous Bay Area temblor since 1989, or a giant L.A. quake since 1994.

Mexico’s worst earthquake in the past century last week should serve as a wake-up call. Brown should put state emergency service managers and big-city mayors through their paces to prove we’re ready for a seismic event that could disrupt millions of lives and billions in commerce.

Columbus, Ohio. Gov. John Kasich, a Republican shade of Brown, is also soon to leave office, prone to sanctimonious lamentations and in the buzz regarding the next presidential election. There’s one other parallel: Kasich may grow weary of Donald Trump and angry populism and his party’s conservative schisms to the point that he gives up his GOP membership.

I don’t imagine Brown ditching Democrats, given the family’s rich political history. But will he remain quiet as Sen. Bernie Sanders attempts to remold the party in a more socialist image?

If Brown insists on meandering overseas, here’s my lone suggestion: the 500-mile “Camino Frances” pilgrimage across the Pyrenees to the tomb of St. James in northwestern Spain. The journey is scenic, minimalist and spiritually rewarding – qualities seldom on display at the state Capitol.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at