Should Jerry Brown run for president

An era is ending for California

He was the youngest and later the oldest governor in the Golden State: After nearly 50 years in politics, Jerry Brown is retiring. At least for now.

For him politics is like canoeing, said Jerry Brown once. Paddling a bit to the left, a bit to the right, that's the best way to get out of the spot. This philosophy ran like a thread through his 47 years in California politics. When Brown resigns as governor on January 7, an era will come to an end for the state.

At the age of 36 he moved to the governor's office in Sacramento for the first time, at the age of 80 he is now leaving; between two terms, he served in the Golden State as Secretary of State, Mayor, Attorney General and Chairman of the Democratic Party. Hardly anyone has influenced California politics as intensely and for as long as Brown.

Politics from the cradle

Politics was literally born to Edmund Gerald Brown Jr. The father, "Pat" Brown - son of a German immigrant who came to California during the gold rush - was a politician with heart and soul and served California as governor from 1959 to 1967. "Politics was the family business," writes the historian and Author Miriam Pawel in her book "The Browns of California".

But instead of going into politics, the son first went to the monastery. For almost four years, Jerry, his nickname from an early age, lived in a Jesuit order in the San Francisco Bay Area with the aim of becoming a Catholic priest. Singleness, poverty and obedience were the vows of the Jesuits, but with the latter he had his problems, Brown said years later in an interview. "I've always had a strong mind of my own."

Brown left the order and studied law at Berkeley and Yale University. He describes an evening as a turning point in his life when he was studying for the state examination at his parents' house, who had since moved to the governor's seat in Sacramento. During a study break, he strolled through the villa and overheard an argument between his father and the speaker of the state parliament. «I followed every word, spellbound. With every pore of my body I felt: I want to go into politics, ”says Brown.

With the strategic skill of a chess player, the young man planned his way into politics: he used positions in the school inspectorate and as Secretary of State - an elected member of the government who leads the state administration - to position himself for his true goal: Governor. His father, who had since lost the post to Ronald Reagan, thought he was megalomaniac.

But Brown Junior quickly built a reputation for being an anti-corruption fighter and a money saver. In times of the Watergate scandal, this mixture, paired with a well-known surname, proved to be a recipe for success: In 1974 Jerry Brown was elected California's youngest governor. Brown didn't even move into the governor's mansion, where his parents had lived not so long ago - he rented a small city apartment, where he supposedly slept on a mattress on the floor. He also canceled the inauguration ball to save money and sold the government's private plane. Discipline and thrift have always characterized him.

The challenges were huge for the political newcomer. If his father ruled California in a boom phase, Jerry Brown had to struggle with the dark side of growth - smog, traffic, race riots. In addition, Brown already put climate protection on his agenda in those days, which is still a matter close to his heart today. The vision of sending a California satellite into space that would supply the state with solar energy earned him the nickname "Governor Moonbeam".

Opportunistic and ambitious

Since his early years in politics, Brown's career had been shaped by two traits: pragmatism bordering on opportunism and ambition. Brown has always known how to sell rejected ideas as his own if this seemed politically necessary to him; such as the legendary Proposition 13 tax break, which cemented low property taxes in the constitution.

And even the hard-won governorship he seemed to see only as a stepping stone, "Governor Moonbeam" wanted to become president. In 1976 and again in 1980 he threw his hat into the ring for the Democratic presidential nomination. Foreseeable he lost to more influential politicians like Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy. "It was blind ambition," Brown admits, looking back.

The Californians long resented these candidacies. After leaving the governor's office, he failed twice with attempts for the Senate. Brown then turned his back on politics, California and America for a few years and found his way back to his religious roots. In the 1980s he studied and practiced the art of Zen in Japan and worked with Mother Theresa in India and Bangladesh. He said at the time that he hoped the experience would improve his character.

However, his opponents felt little of the charity practiced in Kolkata when Brown wanted to become president for the third time in 1992. With his internal party competitor Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas, he delivered bitter television duels in which he accused him and his wife of corruption. But, as is well known, this candidacy also failed.

In the years that followed, Brown became a little quieter: Instead of moving to Washington, he moved to Oakland, the problem city across from San Francisco, and became mayor. There Brown learned what politics mean in a small way, said Dianne Feinstein, California senator and a friend of Brown's. It was also she who wed Brown and his long-term partner, Anne Gust, 20 years his junior, in 2005.

The two have now become what one calls a “power couple” in English: he is the governor of the fifth largest economy in the world, she is a former lawyer and top manager at the clothing chain The Gap. After the wedding, she became his closest adviser. He owes his comeback in California politics to her, says Brown. In 2006 he was elected attorney general of California, then again governor in 2010 and 2014.

A second chance

The fact that the Californians elected Brown a third and fourth time for governorship was due to his reputation as an iron saver. The economy groaned under the effects of the recession when the then 73-year-old returned to Sacramento: the unemployment rate in 2011 was 12 percent, the creditworthiness was the worst of all states.

Unemployment has now fallen to 4.2 percent, and the former deficit of $ 27 billion has turned into a surplus of $ 29 billion. Brown achieved this with an iron hand and a finely balanced mix of tax increases and spending cuts. In a member state that is politically moving more and more to the left, he has regularly vetoed legislation by his own party.

Brown's return to governor's office also gave him the opportunity to make amends for mistakes made in his first term in office, for example in criminal law: in 1976, the newly appointed governor signed a law that restricted the discretion of the courts and instead stipulated fixed sentences for many offenses. In doing so, he set off an avalanche of ever more tightening conditions, which led to the Californian prisons bursting at the seams in the decades that followed.

"I'm trying to make amends for what I've done," Brown said to a friend at the beginning of his third term. He signed reforms that treat juvenile offenders more leniently and give them the chance of suspended sentences. In addition, Brown has pardoned more than 1,100 offenders since 2011, significantly more than any of his predecessors.

Most recently, Brown was best known as an opponent of President Donald Trump, with whom he passionately argued about immigration, climate protection and the penal system. The verbal skirmishes masked the fact that the two men have something in common. When Brown ran for president in 1992, he positioned himself as a fighter against the elites with the motto “Take Back America”. Like Trump, Brown likes to "drop rhetorical bombs," as he himself says. Brown's sister told the New Yorker that the president was a rebel, but Jerry was the perfect rebel.

He has perfected the art of political canoeing in recent years. He navigated his agenda through the waters of Sacramento despite opposition from environmental activists, the oil industry, progressives and conservatives. Observers today see a milder brown; a work by St. Ignatius is said to be on his desk. He himself says that he now understands why his father advised him not to become governor directly. “Today I know that experience is good. You have a better idea of ​​things. "

At the end of his professional life, Jerry Brown now wants to go back to his roots. He built a farm on a piece of land northwest of Sacramento that belonged to his grandfather 140 years ago; he and his wife want to move there. He denies any ambitions to try the presidency a fourth time. But Brown also made sure in good time that he still has $ 15 million in the campaign box. You never know what's coming in life, says his wife.

Brown's shadow rests on his successor

There are big footsteps that Gavin Newsom will have to fill when he takes over from Jerry Brown in early January. For the first time since the 19th century, two California Democratic governors succeed each other. Newsom also knows the day-to-day business very well, having been Brown's deputy since 2011.

Newsom vowed to stick to the course of its predecessor in terms of climate protection, budgetary discipline and criminal law reform. But in many ways he differs markedly from him: The 51-year-old with the hair combed back with gel looks like the typical Hollywood beauty. He amassed a fortune trading wine and previously caused a stir with affairs. Today he is married to a second marriage and has four children.

Politically, he is further left than Brown and has promised more spending on education and health. Newsom achieved national fame with his fight for gay marriage: As mayor of San Francisco in 2004, he instructed the registry office to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples, even though California law prohibited this. The Supreme Court annulled the marriages, but Newsom's unconventional approach drew a lot of attention to the issue.

The new governor must be careful not to become the pawn of his own party. In future, the Democrats will have a three-quarters majority in both chambers of parliament; if Newsom blocks legislation, they could overrule its veto. Brown has built the reputation of an alpha male in Sacramento, says political advisor Bill Whalen. "Newsom has to put itself in an equally dominant position."

At the same time, some problems await the new governor: California is fighting against enormous inequality; the pension obligations are not covered in the long term; and the worsening water shortage caused by climate change, coupled with forest fires, is increasingly affecting the state. The treasury may also be full, but 70 percent of the budget depends on income from income taxes - and thus on the economy. “I myself was lucky enough to rule in a boom phase,” Brown pointed out to his successor, “but a recession is long overdue. Good luck, baby! "(lma., San Francisco)