California's former and perhaps future governor, Jerry Brown, says it took him 13 minutes to get here from Oakland, where he was mayor for eight years and now lives.
He came on BART, the transit system launched by his father Pat, who was Democratic governor for two terms until beaten by Ronald Reagan in 1966, ending a political career that began in 1928 when Pat ran unsuccessfully, as a Republican, for the state assembly.
If Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who'll be 77 in 2010, does not run for governor, Jerry Brown, who is now attorney general, probably will, although he says being governor “is an impossible task and anyone will leave discredited.”
Why be governor?
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Then why try? Because, he says, he is, in the formulation of the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci, a pessimist of the intellect but an optimist of the will. He was 36 when he replaced a congenital optimist, Reagan, as governor. He'll be twice that age when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger exits office.
Feinstein is wealthy, well-known and popular, so she can wait until 2010 to decide, thereby paralyzing other possible Democratic candidates. If she then does not run, Brown's name recognition will make him the front-runner. His last year as governor was 1982, but in this megastate, becoming known can cost a fortune, and his name is known from Oregon's border to Mexico's. That is why he says he may become the last gubernatorial nominee not rich enough to personally finance his campaign.
Brown, who was 7 when World War II ended, remembers rationing. Sometimes – when he is in a San Francisco frame of mind, fretting about “unsustainable” growth and celebrating monastic asceticism – he seems to regret the end of it. But the realist in him dryly notes that the dreamy legislation Schwarzenegger signed that requires greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020 does not begin to bite until 2012, when Schwarzenegger will be gone.
It is difficult to discern Brown's political beliefs, beyond a weary acceptance of the fact that in this megastate, which is planted thick with factions fiercely protective of the status quo, whoever becomes governor can only nibble at the edges of problems. The state government, which is hemorrhaging red ink, is heavily dependent on income taxes, which are volatile. And initiatives promoted by the public education lobby and other factions have restricted budget flexibility.
When as Oakland's mayor he launched a military school for low-income children, he endured protesters who were, he says, suffering “misplaced concreteness.” These gray-bearded “remnants” of the anti-Vietnam war movement “were looking for a war to protest.” He preserved the school, promoted condominiums “to bring disposable income” to the inner city, increased the number of charter schools from three to 24, expanded the police force and subsidized the arts to make Oakland attractive.
Political change takes time
BART helped, by making San Francisco an easy commute, though during construction it devastated Oakland for a while. The moral of the story, he says, is that politics requires a long “time horizon” – to fix California, 40 years. Meanwhile, he fumes that a proposed $50 million net to deter suicidal jumpers from the Golden Gate Bridge is an unaffordable “luxury.”
In “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” a novel Brown admires, Milan Kundera writes: “Human time does not turn in a circle; it runs ahead in a straight line. That is why man cannot be happy: happiness is the longing for repetition.”
Brown, with Sacramento on his mind, happily heads back to Oakland – using a BART fare card purchased, he notes, with a senior citizen's discount.