Jerry Brown

From Academic Kids

Jerry Brown in the 1970s
Jerry Brown in the 1970s

Edmund Gerald Brown Jr. (born April 7, 1938), best known as Jerry Brown, is an American Democratic politician who has had a lengthy political career in the state of California.

He served as the 34th Governor of California, was thrice a candidate for President of the United States, and is currently the mayor of Oakland, California.

Brown was born in San Francisco, California, the son of former Democratic governor Pat Brown. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1961.


Political Career

1960s-70s and Governorship

Brown earned a law degree from Yale Law School in 1964 and was first elected to public office in 1969 as a member of the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees. In 1970, he was elected California Secretary of State. In 1974 he was elected Governor of California succeeding the outgoing Republican Ronald Reagan and served two terms until 1983. Jerry Brown's father, Pat Brown, had been Governor prior to losing the 1966 election to Reagan.

Staunchly opposed to the Vietnam War, Brown had a broad base of support from California's young left-wing radicals who dominated the political scene at the time. Upon election he refused to live in the grand governor's mansion, and instead rented a modest apartment. Instead of riding as a passenger in the traditional chauffeured limousine, Brown drove himself to work in a compact sedan from the State Vehicle Pool.

During his governorship, Brown seemed happy to work with innovators. He had a strong interest in environmental issues, which were being highlighted during the decade (perhaps especially as a result of the first Earth Day in spring 1970). Among Brown's official appointments relating to such matters were people like J. Baldwin (aka James T. Baldwin, worked in the newly created California Office of Appropriate Technology), Sim Van der Ryn (State Architect), and Stewart Brand (“Special Advisor”). He appointed John Bryson, the CEO of Southern California Electric Company and a founding member of the Natural Resources Defense Council, chairman of the California State Water Board in 1976. Brown also appointed the strongly pro-environment and outspoken poet Gary Snyder to the board of the California Arts Council.

In 1978 he was dubbed "Governor Moonbeam" by his critics from his proposal for the State of California to purchase its own satellite that would be launched into orbit to provide emergency communications for the state (a similar program of leasing satellites was later adopted by the state). The nickname quickly became associated with his quirky politics, which were considered eccentric and even radical by some in California and the rest of the nation. He was even the subject of California Über Alles by punk band the Dead Kennedys, a bizarre fantasy about Brown being an evil Zen fascist. Many of the concepts suggested by Governor Brown that were considered quirky at the time would later be considered forward looking and are now simply conventional.

1976 presidential campaign

While serving as governor, he twice ran for the Democratic nomination for President. The first time, in 1976, he started very late in the primary season as the focus of a movement to stop the nomination of former Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia, who many in the party felt was unelectable due to his perceived lack of a record for success in his brief tenure as a governor.

Citing his record of having curbed his state's spending and balanced its budget while expanding services in the area of welfare, employment, and consumer and environmental protection, Brown proclaimed his belief that there would soon be a voter backlash against expansive and costly government policies. "This is an era of limits, and we had all better get used to it," he declared. He entered six primaries and won five of them, in Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Nevada, and his home state of California. Despite this success, he was unable to stall Carter's momentum, and his rival was nominated on the first ballot at the 1976 Democratic National Convention.

1980 presidential campaign

In 1980, he ran again, attempting to challenge Carter for renomination. His candidacy had been anticipated by the press ever since he won re-election in California by the biggest margin in California history, 1.3 million votes, but he had trouble gaining traction in both fundraising and polling. This was widely believed to be the result of the more prominent candidacy of liberal icon Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

As his campaign that year was much longer, his 1980 platform, which he declared to be the natural result of combining Buckminster Fuller's visions of the future and E.F. Schumacher's theory of "Buddhist economics," was much expanded from 1976. Gone was his "era of limits" slogan, replaced by a promise to, in his words, "Protect the Earth, serve the people, and explore the universe." The three main planks of his platform were a call for a constitutional convention to ratify the Balanced Budget Amendment, a unilateral opposition to nuclear power, and a promise to increase funds for the space program. He endorsed the idea of mandatory non-military national service for the nation's youth and suggested that the Defense Department cut back on support troops while beefing-up the number of combat troops. On the subject of the Energy Crisis, he decried the "Faustian bargain" that he claimed Carter had entered into with the oil industry, and he declared that he would greatly increase the federal subsidy of research into solar power. He described the health care industry as a "high priesthood" engaged in a "medical arms race" and he called for a market-oriented system of universal health care.

As his campaign began to attract more and more members of what some described as "the fringe," including the likes of Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, and Jesse Jackson, Brown's polling numbers began to suffer. He received only 10% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary and he was soon forced to announce that his decision to remain in the race would hinge on a good showing in the Wisconsin primary. Although he had polled well there throughout the primary season, a disastrous and bizarre attempt at filming a live, special effects-filled, thirty-minute commercial (produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola) led to the melt-down of his candidacy. He received just 12% of the vote in the primary. He withdrew from the race the next day, having spent $2 million, won no primaries, and received exactly one delegate to the convention.

Defeat and return

In 1982, Brown chose not to seek a third term as Governor, which was allowed at that time. Since Brown is not covered by term limts that came into effect in 1990, it is possible that he could once again run for governor. Instead he ran for the U.S. Senate. That year, his alleged mishandling of a medfly infestation of the state's fruit farms sent his approval ratings into a nosedive, and he was defeated by Republican Pete Wilson by a margin of 55% to 45%. Republican George Deukmejian won the governorship in 1982, succeeding Brown, and was reelected in 1986. After his Senate defeat in 1982, many considered Brown's political career to be over. During the 1980s, Brown travelled to Japan to study Buddhism, studying with Christian/Zen teacher Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle, among others. He also visited Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India, where he ministered to the sick in one of her hospices.

Upon his return from abroad in 1988, he announced that he would stand as a candidate to become chairman of the California Democratic Party. After winning the position in 1989, Brown experienced an abbreviated tenure that could best be described as controversial. Although he greatly expanded the party's donor base and enlarged its coffers, his focus on grassroots organizing and get out the vote drives was widely blamed for Dianne Feinstein's loss to Senator Wilson in the 1990 gubernatorial election, as it diverted funds that many felt would have been better used for television commercials. In early 1991, Brown abruptly resigned his post, although he had promised that he would not, and announced that he would run for the Senate seat held by the retiring Alan Cranston. Although Brown consistently led in the polls for both the nomination and the general election, he quickly abandoned the campaign, deciding instead to run for the presidency for a third time.

1992 presidential campaign

When he announced his intention to run for president against President George H.W. Bush, many in the media and his own party dismissed his campaign as an ego-trip with little chance of gaining significant support. Ignoring them, Brown, correctly gauging the anti-establishment viewpoint of most voters that year, embarked on an ultra-grassroots campaign to, in his words, "take back America from the confederacy of corruption, careerism, and campaign consulting in Washington." To the surprise of many, Brown was able to tap a populist streak in the Democratic Party, a feat that many would later see as the precursor to the 2004 presidential campaign of Governor Howard Dean.

In his stump speech, first used while officially announcing his candidacy on the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Brown told listeners that he would only be accepting campaign contributions from individuals and that he would accept no contribution over 100 dollars. Continuing with his populist reform theme, he assailed what he dubbed "the bipartisan Incumbent Party in Washington" and called for term limits for members of Congress. Citing various recent scandals on Capitol Hill, particularly the recent check-bouncing scandal and the large congressional pay-raises from 1990, he promised to put an end to Congress being a "Stop-and-Shop for the monied special interests."

As he campaigned in various primary states, Brown would eventually expand his platform beyond a policy of strict campaign finance reform. Although he would focus on a variety of issues throughout the campaign, most especially his endorsement of living wage laws and his opposition to free trade agreements such as NAFTA, he mostly concentrated on his tax policy, which had been created specifically for him by Arthur Laffer, the famous supporter of supply-side economics who created the Laffer curve. This plan, which called for the replacement of the progressive income tax with a flat tax and a value added tax, both at a fixed 13% rate, was decried by his opponents as regressive. Nevertheless, it was endorsed by The New York Times, The New Republic, and Forbes and its raising of taxes on corporations and elimination of various loopholes, which tended to favor the very wealthy, proved to be popular with voters. This was, perhaps, not surprising, as various opinion polls taken at the time found that as many as three-quarters of all Americans believed the current tax code to be unfairly biased toward the wealthy.

Quickly realizing that his campaign's limited budget meant that he could not afford to engage in conventional advertising, Brown began to use a mixture of alternative media and unusual fundraising techniques which was derided at the time as "silly," but would later be dubbed "revolutionary." Unable to pay for actual commercials, Brown used frequent cable television and talk radio interviews as a form of free media to get his message to the voters. In order to raise funds, he purchased a toll-free telephone number, which adorned all of his campaign paraphernalia. During the campaign, Brown's constant repetition of this number (at rallies, during interviews, and in the middle of debates), combined with the ultra-moralistic language he used, led some to describe him as a "political televangelist."

Despite poor showings in the Iowa caucus (1.6%) and the New Hampshire primary (8.0%), Brown soon managed to win narrow victories in Maine, Colorado, Nevada, Alaska, and Vermont, but he continued to be considered an also-ran for much of the campaign. It was not until shortly after Super Tuesday, when the field had been narrowed to Brown, former Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, and frontrunning Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas, that Brown began to emerge as a major contender in the eyes of the press.

On March 17, Brown forced Tsongas from the race when he received a strong third-place showing in the Illinois primary and then defeated the senator for second place in the Michigan primary by a wide margin. Exactly one week later, he cemented his position as a major threat to Clinton when he eked out a narrow win in the bitterly-fought Connecticut primary.

As the press now focused on the primaries in New York and Wisconsin, which were both to be held on the same day, Brown, who had taken the lead in polls in both states, made a serious gaffe: He announced to an audience of various leaders of New York City's Jewish community that, if nominated, he would ask the Reverend Jesse Jackson to be his running-mate. Jackson, who had made a pair of anti-Semitic comments about Jews in general and New York City's Jews in particular while running for president in 1984, was still a widely hated figure in that community and Brown's polling numbers suffered. On April 7, he lost both primaries to Clinton by a razor-thin margin.

Although Brown continued to campaign in a number of states, he won no further primaries. Despite this, he still had a sizable number of delegates, and a big win in his home state of California would deprive Clinton of sufficient support to win the nomination, which Brown apparently thought would revert to him by default. After nearly a month of intense campaigning and multiple debates between the two candidates, Clinton managed to defeat Brown in this final primary by a margin of 48% to 41%. Although he did not win the nomination, Brown was able to boast of one accomplishment: At the following month's Democratic National Convention, he received the votes of 596 delegates on the first ballot, more than any other candidate but Clinton.

Today: Mayor

Brown also for several years hosted a talk and call-in radio show on the local Pacifica group station, KPFA. The radio show and Brown's politcal action group were called We the People. In discussions he strongly critiqued both the Democratic and Republican parties - with many positions similar to those of Ralph Nader, both appearing to draw upon the works of Noam Chomsky. He terminated this show to run for the nonpartisan office of Mayor of Oakland (all municipal and county offices in California are by law nonpartisan).

Missing image
Mayor Jerry Brown

In June, 1998, he was elected mayor of the city of Oakland, and took office in January, 1999. An early action was to get the approval of the electorate to convert Oakland's weak mayor political structure (the mayor as chairman of the board of supervisors and official greeter) to a strong mayor structure (the mayor as chief excecutive over the nonpolitical city manager and thus the various city departments and not a board member). This strong mayor structure in many ways is similar to that of the nearby city of San Francisco. Brown was reelected in 2002.

In 2003, Brown and fellow Democratic Mayor Jim Hahn of Los Angeles praised Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for his decisive actions regarding the suppression of the reinstitution of portions the vehicle license fee (labeled by opponents as the car tax) and some restoration of state funding for city governments, implying that Gray Davis (who had been Governor Brown's Chief of Staff in the 1970s) had acted poorly in this regard.

In early 2004, Brown expressed his interest to be a candidate for the Democratic nomination for attorney general of California in the 2006 election. On May 18, 2004, he formally filed the necessary papers to begin his campaign for the nomination. According to the campaign's official website, he has already raised over a million dollars in contributions.


For many years Brown never married. He could occasionally be seen dating high-profile women, the most notable of whom was Linda Ronstadt.

In March of 2005, he announced that he is to wed his longtime live-in partner, Gap Inc. chief counsel Anne Gust. They were married June 18 in a ceremony officiated by Senator Diane Feinstein in the Oakland City Hall.

Since May 2005 he's been a contributing blogger at The Huffington Post.


Vitriol can irritate, but it is often the price of freewheeling discussion and the discovery of important stuff. --from his Blog

External links

Preceded by:
H.P. Sullivan
California Secretary of State
Succeeded by:
March Fong Eu

Template:End box

Preceded by:
Ronald Reagan
Governor of California
Succeeded by:
George Deukmejian

Template:End box


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