Bill Whalen

Bill Whalen: Jerry Brown sets example for presidential hopefuls

Gov. Jerry Brown accompanied by his wife, Anne Gust Brown, and 8-year-old Kimie Metcalf, of Chino, light the 53-foot tall white fir Capitol Christmas Tree on Dec. 2.
Gov. Jerry Brown accompanied by his wife, Anne Gust Brown, and 8-year-old Kimie Metcalf, of Chino, light the 53-foot tall white fir Capitol Christmas Tree on Dec. 2.

We bid adieu to the four-year era of subdivided government – at least until the Democrats reclaim the U.S. Senate in 2016 and once again grind gears with a Republican House. Like many a political swan song, subdivided government’s grand farewell was tainted by grandstanding.

Sure, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren may detest a relaxed oversight of the financial sector, just as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz sincerely believes President Barack Obama’s executive action on illegal immigration went too far.

Still, that the two are rumored to have presidential aspirations makes their protests as much about making friends in Iowa as making inroads on Capitol Hill.

A pair of potential presidential newbies such as Cruz and Warren could benefit from a trip to California and a little tutelage from the master. That would be Gov. Jerry Brown, three times a White House hopeful and currently the subject of speculation (none of his own making) that he might have one last run in him.

What can Brown teach? That, sometimes, the best way to get noticed in the game of politics is by escaping notice. Figure it this way:

California’s two largest population centers see protests over Ferguson and New York; in the Bay Area, protesters vandalize stores and shut down freeways. Brown, an Oakland resident when he’s not in Sacramento, doesn’t call out the California National Guard – or call out law enforcement for unjust practices. The governor stays out of the story.

The Golden State endures its worst winter storm in years – the flooding and mudslides a political bonanza for a governor to showcase his own empathy and his administration’s responsiveness. And Brown? Except for maybe taking first dog Sutter puddle splashing, he stayed high and dry with no public appearances.

Next month brings a rare gubernatorial trifecta (inaugural and State of the State addresses, plus unveiling his budget proposal) that makes for three big bites out of the apple. And Brown’s chosen path? Fold his inaugural and State of the State into what likely will be a too-brief and all-too-forgettable address.

Brown hasn’t been entirely missing in action in December. There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes work we non-Horseshoe residents don’t get to see, such as drawing up next year’s state budget. And on Monday, Brown appeared at a climate change conference in Oakland.

Still, coming off a big re-election win, and at a time when his party is pivoting into the post-Obama void, Brown remains notoriously low profile.

Who else but our intrepid governor could serve up the Dec. 2 lighting of the Capitol Christmas tree as the “top news” on his official website weeks after said event transpired?

Then again, maybe we should cut the governor some holiday slack, especially when one considers what the rest of America has been forced to endure this month. In this silly season, until Jeb Bush announced this week he’s exploring a campaign, it was a steady diet of anonymous aides and hangers-on telling us that he was increasingly likely to make a run. So could Mitt Romney, again. Then there’s the unending chatter about Hillary Clinton.

Brown could play the same nefarious speculation game – dispatch faceless political aides to talk up a candidacy. Then again, his political operation has a hard time accessing an HOV lane, so small being the head count in Jerry Land.

Maybe this is Brown’s shrewdest decision of all. He has seen the consequences of an overexposed Obama presidency (last month’s immigration speech snubbed by the major TV networks) and political gravity dragging down Clinton (the more visible she is, the more her poll numbers sag).

So why not lay low, show scant interest in a 2016 campaign, and watch the intoxicating effect it has on national reporters used to coquettish pols.

That could be Brown’s best gift to the presidential process – convincing the field that less speculation is more considerate of a tired electorate.

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