The prodigal son has returned. Not that he ever really left for good. Or was all that prodigal, for that matter.
Jerry Brown's long and winding road has led him back to the door to the suite of offices that both he and his father occupied for two terms and which Brown, joining only the late Chief Justice Earl Warren in this regard, will take on for a third term as California's governor as he succeeds Arnold Schwarzenegger.
After election week, Governor-elect Brown and First Lady-to be (and more) Anne Gust Brown went off for a week on a well-earned vacation, so most serious public discussion of the transition held off for a bit. (It even held off last week with Brown back but conducting meetings in semi-stealth mode.) But it won't hold off much past Thanksgiving. More on the transition then.
Meanwhile, the dust is still settling on Brown's resounding landslide victory -- 54% to 41%, a margin of more than 1.2 million votes over billionaire Meg Whitman -- absolutely shattering the biggest spending non-presidential campaign in American history. In the process, Brown broke the record for the most votes ever received by a gubernatorial candidate, leading a Democratic sweep for the statewide ticket. Some, predictably, are pushing myths to account for the Brown-led California exception to the Republican wave that crashed, as I predicted here on the Huffington Post, against the Eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. And the story as told in the cut-back conventional media is on the under-cooked side.
Which is not surprising, since virtually all the state and national press early on anointed Whitman as an unstoppable high-tech juggernaut of a campaign run by the best consultants in the business. Up against poor old Jerry Brown and his ragtag little band. When in reality, it was Ali-Foreman '74 all along, with what I called Brown's Zen rope-a-dope approach unfolding as anticipated.
Jerry Brown ended his campaign and began his gubernatorial transition in the place where he regenerated as a political figure: Oakland. If you want to understand the stunning Brown comeback, you'll understand the significance of Oakland as its nexus.
His affection for the City Across the Bay From the City by the Bay was obvious when he wrapped up a whirlwind three-day, 14-speech statewide tour the Monday night before the election with a sunset rally on the Oakland waterfront next to the historic Jack London Square, revitalized by the California attorney general during his previous gig as Oakland's mayor. Rather than the normal November nippiness, it was nearly shirtsleeve weather by the water in globally warmed California.
The whole thing had a back-to-the-future air, befitting the imminent return of the tarnished Golden State's back-to-the-future governor. Few if any were unmindful of the state's problems, which are shared elsewhere in the U.S., yet it was a boisterous, happy crowd of 500 that greeted Brown, Senator Barbara Boxer, and most of the statewide Democratic ticket at the end of a day that began in San Diego.
Brown began the day at a cafe packed with hundreds of supporters in San Diego's historic district before moving up the coast to Los Angeles, where he rallied with Boxer and the entire state Democratic ticket at the picturesque Central Library downtown.
Then came a rally at the metaphoric territory of the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas before the final event in Oakland. Brown, who was making his 14th speech in a 72-hour period, was a little hoarse but none the worse for wear and tear.
It was a lovely setting on the Oakland waterfront next to Jack London Square, not far from where he bought his converted warehouse in the '90s after his runner-up bid for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination. Brown moved out of his old Victorian firehouse in San Francisco, in the process making a fateful move across the Bay. Imagine if he'd been the mayor of San Francisco, which some had urged, rather than the mayor of Oakland.
Oakland grounded Brown in ways the public hadn't seen before, bringing his vaulting and vaunted futurism into the very gritty nitty-gritty of the everyday. There he became a regular presence, sans entourage, often by himself, checking things first hand in the neighborhoods, in businesses, in constant police ride-alongs.
Brown began by calling for an Oakland "Ecopolis," as befits his lifelong philosopher prince leanings, but as I learned for myself in 1995, he was already on a first name basis with many of the police officers he would lead as Oakland's mayor following his landslide election in 1998. Oakland had none of San Francisco's glitz, and far more real need.
As the other candidates spoke on this unusually warm November evening, Brown and Boxer emerged next to the stage, with spouses Anne Gust Brown and Stewart Boxer, a longtime Oakland-based lawyer dating back to the couple's formative days across the Bay in Marin County.
There was an air of enthusiasm and confidence throughout, and Boxer only served to heighten that with her own humorous yet fiery remarks.
Then it was Brown's turn. Wearing a tie, this time, with his suit for this third straight day of barnstorming, Brown spent little time going down memory lane in this culminating event of his campaign in the place which gave rise to his political rebirth. There would be time for that in his victory speech the following night.
As the crowd roared and chanted "Jerry, Jerry, Jerry," Brown did something most politicians would not. He cut short the applause. Though of course he stirred it up again with his remarks. But it really was last call, closing time.
"This campaign is now winding down," Brown said. "The only thing left is this. Go out and vote and get your neighbors to go out and vote and make sure that California sends a big message to Washington that we are still a progressive, creative state."
Well, there was some reminiscence. Referring to the uniformed cadets from one of his charter schools, the Oakland Military Institute, who stood on stage throughout behind the candidates, Brown recalled how controversial his decision to start the school had been, noting with pride that one in four graduates this year were admitted to the University of California system.
When a lone woman shouted to this most cerebral yet earthy politician that she loved him, Brown, only momentarily startled, had a ready reply.
"Well, I love you too. I don't know who you are, but if you love me then I love you," he said, as the crowd cheered and Brown's wife and partner in this political venture/adventure, Anne Gust Brown, beamed. "That's the way this thing's gonna work going forward. We all have to love each other. In fact, given all the hostility and anger and bitterness, we need a little love up there in Sacramento."
Closing to a final roar of appreciation from the crowd, Brown followed colorful ex-White House advance ace Ed Emerson, who was casually dressed with blazer, no tie, and a black CIA baseball cap worn backwards, off-stage for some crowd-plunging.
Brown lingered for a long time after, moving around the perimeter, shaking hands, bantering, giving impromptu press interviews, posing for photos, including one with his stalwart press secretary Sterling Clifford, who'd been so out-numbered by Whitman's gang of high-priced flacks, and his young son. And always the Oaklanders, who'd developed a once seemingly unlikely bond with the celebrity politician who'd landed in their midst.
Then he and his wife, whose role in all this is so central that no one term does it justice, were off to relax and contemplate election day.
Brown, of course, knew he was going to win. His final tracking poll had him leading Whitman by a whopping 51% to 40%. Which tracks, as it were, very nicely if a bit conservatively with the actual 54% to 41% outcome, as late deciders went with Brown rather than Whitman and her massively spending enterprise.
Barbara Boxer, too, knew that she would win, with the final Democratic tracking polls showing, as they had for several days, actually, her besting ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina by seven or eight points. The final result, in fact, shapes up as Boxer 52%, Fiorina 42%, which is also a landslide.
Despite the lies about polls emanating from the Whitman camp, some smart Republicans knew that Brown would win well in advance of the election. But some of them, perhaps eager to believe their own internal polls and conned by word of Democratic tracking polls that was, er, not entirely accurate, believed that Boxer was ripe for the taking. And so they committed several millions of dollars in late spending by outside groups that would have been far better spent in smaller, less-expensive states Western states with real nail-biter Senate races such as Colorado and Washington. C'est la vie.
As I wrote from the beginning, while Boxer is somewhat to the left of the California mainstream, Fiorina is far to the right of it. And Fiorina presented a target-rich environment as a champion of outsourcing and a cashiered CEO.
In the end, she and Whitman, Golden Parachute Twins at last, amplified one another's negatives. Each came across as entitled, arrogant, decidedly under-informed, and definitely not one of us. As I wrote here last January on the Huffington Post following Scott Brown's shock win in the Massachusetts special election for Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat -- in "Scott Brown Need Not Apply: California Republicans In the Post-Arnold Era" -- neither Whitman nor Fiorina fit his regular guy independent model for victory in a mostly blue state. In fact, quite the contrary.
And Boxer, who I've liked personally since she knocked on my parents' door running for county supervisor and with whom I later worked on a state solar commission but whose knee-jerk liberalism turns off many swing voters and enrages Republicans, nonetheless comes off as a real person, a fighter with personality.
So Jerry Brown's victory party at the historic Fox Theater in Oakland -- Boxer, despite her San Francisco Bay Area roots, anchored the south end of the state for the ticket at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel -- lacked suspense. I'd congratulated Brown on his impending victory weeks earlier. His last tracking poll had him up by 11 points. The media exit poll had his beating Whitman, 54% to 41%, essentially the final result.
But the evening, with 2000 invited guests and a horde of news media, including 36 TV cameras, did not lack for excitement. And the venue was quite fitting. Situated in downtown Oakland, the Fox Theater was one of the grand movie palaces of the 1920s, inspired by Indian and Middle Eastern architecture. But after its heyday, it fell into serious disrepair such that, by the time Mayor Jerry Brown came along, squatters, as he noted in his victory speech, were cooking their meals near where he stood, using materials from the theater itself for their fires.
Now it's on the national register of historic places and hosts the Oakland School for the Arts, Brown's other charter school in addition to the Oakland Military Institute. Brown has raised $10 million for these schools in the past few years, including an event earlier this year featuring Iron Man star Robert Downey, Jr.
In all, a fitting symbol of regeneration both for a city and for a politician who is on his way to having as many lives as the long-lived Doctor in Doctor Who. And situated on Telegraph Avenue it's just a few miles south of Brown's alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley.
"I want the people of California to know we will have times that are tough, maybe a year more," Brown cautioned his excited supporters in his victory speech. Then he gave the uplift. "I take as my challenge a common purpose based on a vision of what California can be. I see California leading in renewable energy, public education and an openness to every person."
As the energetic Brown darted around before and after his speech many from his current cast and storied past were much in evidence.
As he introduced Anne Gust Brown, California Democratic Party chairman John Burton (who'd helped give Barbara Boxer her start as his congressional aide), noted that in 1974 when he had dark hair he'd been a state party chairman who helped elect Brown, when he had hair, as governor for the first time.
As Gust Brown spoke, Brown's day-to-day campaign manager Steve Glazer waited beside him in the wings.
Former Governor Gray Davis and former First Lady Sharon Davis, whom I spoke with frequently throughout the evening, were much in evidence. Davis, who was Brown's gubernatorial chief of staff for most of his first two terms as governor in the '70s and early '80s, predicted to me early this year in one of our telephone conversations that Brown's race with Whitman ultimately would not be close, that Brown, if he ran a smart and steady race, would pull away at the end. Which is what happened.
The Davises were immensely gratified by Brown's victory. Not that Davis has any desire for a return to office himself; he simply wanted to see his old boss and friend -- with whom he's had a complex relationship over the years -- succeed and help California be successful.
Davis's old Jerry Brown colleague Tom Quinn, Brown's advisor since 1969 and his campaign manager when he first won the governorship in 1974, reflexively worked his blackberry in search of actual results. The Secretary of State's web site was erratic and frequently down, and I was happily avoiding my usual inundation of information. But for Quinn, old habits die hard.
Media consultant Joe Trippi, who took part in a kaleidoscopic process of coming up with TV ads, with the candidate himself always in the middle of it, was not present. But most of the rest of the Brown crew, new and old, including those I've already mentioned and more, was.
New senior assistant Nick Velasquez was with the governor-elect, holding his iPhone as Brown darted here and there during the evening,
Advisor Don Sipple, who was Arnold Schwarzenegger's and Pete Wilson's chief media consultant and helped Brown figure out how Republicans would try to run against him and adjust his messaging and advertising accordingly, was on hand, as were a host of other Brown backers and advisors, like Sacramentans David Townsend and Rusty Areias who will help Brown settle back into the Capitol scene.
Former state Controller and key Obama backer Steve Westly, who worked closely with Meg Whitman at eBay but was one of Brown's biggest fundraisers, was ecstatic about Brown's victory, the venture capitalist seeing it as a great continuation for the emerging green economy which Brown in many ways pioneered during his first turn as governor.
California Labor Federation chief Art Pulaski was even more pleased by California voters giving a decisive thumbs down to plutocratic politics. He and his colleagues in organized labor did yeoman service helping Brown, but were still vastly outspent by Whitman and her super-rich and corporate allies.
Former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, a Democrat and leader of the California Forward reform group who was nearly Arnold Schwarzenegger's first chief of staff (and was erroneously reported to be considering a primary challenge to Brown when all other candidates had dropped out), was also thrilled by Brown's huge win. He hopes Brown can help push home reforms to end the characteristic gridlock of the Sacramento system. Some of those ideas are good, some are not, all will have to wait for awhile as Brown confronts the problems immediately before him.
But on this night of an historic victory, Brown was mindful of the problems ahead and even more mindful of what he'd pulled off. Repeatedly darting here and there in the magnificent old theater, greeting well-wishers and doing interviews on the run, he was clearly excited.
Schwarzenegger called Brown to offer his personal congratulations around 9:30 PM. But, even though the exit polling had long since called the race for Brown in landslide fashion, Whitman didn't concede for another two hours, finally appearing before her supporters to give another canned-sounding speech. The few hundred celebrants who remained at Brown's party listened with a certain air of disbelief, with a few hoots of derision mixed in, as Whitman extolled her campaign effort.
I was one of the last to leave, after telling an insistent daily newspaper reporter that I was certain Brown was not in a secret room at the theater "getting hammered," driving up Telegraph Avenue to Berkeley, where I was staying in a hotel near the University of California campus. The Secretary of State's web site was still down, but I hardly needed the latest numbers. In fact, it was a pleasure not to have think about polls and such.
The next morning I went for a brief walk across the UC campus, stopping in Sproul Plaza to try the computer in the lobby for results. They were there at last, and Brown and Boxer had won by even more than the last tracking polling had indicated. In fact, it looked like a statewide sweep for the Democratic ticket led by Brown, who had lived a few blocks north in the International House during his Berkeley student days nearly a half century ago.
Then it was off to Brown campaign headquarters in the Oakland warehouse district, not far from the converted warehouse Brown bought and moved into when he made his fateful '90s move across the bay from San Francisco.
Brown held his first press conference as governor-elect of California -- okay, his first as governor-elect in this millennium -- in this new converted warehouse of a headquarters. The place is not unlike the loft that was Brown's headquarters in his 2006 campaign for state attorney general. It's colorful, dominated by open space for collaborative work, filled with Brown memorabilia and art, the opposite of the corporate style that has come to dominated campaign headquarters settings and decor. But it doesn't have the view the loft had.
As for the press conference, it was a bit of a rollicking affair, with no little humor, notwithstanding the grim state of governance in the not so Golden State.
Before more color, some substance.
Will Brown have a chief of staff? Or not?
Brown said that he is rethinking the structure of the Governor's Office, hoping to "flatten" it and make it more supple. In particular, he may not have a chief of staff.
This is not a new musing by Brown. He's talked in the past of making the all-powerful chief of staff position, which in the current incarnation is a sort of prime ministership, into something seemingly less. In his father's day, there was no chief of staff, there was an executive secretary.
In that regard, well before the election, Brown had Chief Deputy Attorney General Jim Humes already undertaking transition discussions with the Schwarzenegger Administration, in particular Finance Director Ana Matosantos. He was on hand for the press conference, standing off to the side.
Standing off to the side yet in the front of the room, however, was Anne Gust Brown, who will be the very strong second to Governor Brown, whatever her title turns out to be.
She is currently the first lady-to be. She will be in reality Brown's closest collaborator and co-manager of the governorship.
I first met her at a party at Brown's converted warehouse in Oakland in the 1990s, in the period between his last presidential campaign and his campaign for the Oakland mayoralty. I found her to be extremely funny and smart. She has since shown herself to be extraordinarily well-organized and tough.
Moving to Sacramento? Or not?
The answer is yes. And no. He and Gust Brown are not selling their dream house in the Oakland hills. As Brown noted, it has not yet retained its value at purchase. He will continue to spend time there, which is all of 80 miles from the Capitol. But he will also get a place in Sacramento. Especially since he has round-the-clock budget negotiations coming up.
A "civic dialogue."
Brown again promised a major dialogue with the public about the nature of California's governance. There is a major conceptual disconnect in California. People continue to want serious governmental services, but the revenue to sustain those services is lacking as the economy continues to poke along.
Brown intends to engage this contradiction. Money does not emerge by magic. Services do not shrivel into nothingness without consequence. Brown, who noted that voters turned down a mere $18 a year addition to the vehicle license fee to save the parks system, feels that Californians must be engaged as adults on this question.
If people want what they say they want, it has to be paid for. The question is how. And if they don't want what they've said they want, that, and its implication, needs to be confronted.
After the press conference, many remained to soak in the atmosphere, and the new style of the new/old governor.
It had been evident from the moment Brown arrived. Reporters were waiting inside, set up and ready to go, when the governor-elect bounded in, essentially on time. (Something folks should not get too used to.) He seemed a bit surprised to see all the reporters already arrayed before him and thought better of going to the back of the headquarters to confer with advisors who were still outside, so he turned around and headed back out the door. After a few moments, he came back inside, nodding and saying he was ready to go as I said "Take two" upon his return.
Another governor, Schwarzenegger certainly, and perhaps the others, would have sent an advance person ahead, or been informed to hold outside in the car via the constant communications that attends his movements. Not this one.
Another example of his far more informal style came after the press conference.
Anne Gust Brown was approached by a few reporters and quickly found herself giving her first press conference. She allowed as how she would continue to help her husband, as she has for years, on an unpaid basis. Asked about continuing Maria Shriver's highly successful annual Women's Conference, she said she hoped that Shriver would do that. And she answered questions about the campaign, noting that the heavily criticized strategy of holding off spending until after Labor Day had proved to be highly successful. As the questions became repetitive, I wandered off and found Brown conferring with Tom Quinn.
Brown wondered where his wife was and, told that she was with a press gaggle around the corner, his curiosity got the better of him and he went to see what was happening. To the delight of reporters, who now had two principals to talk with some more. "You're doing a press conference!," he exclaimed, igniting a little light banter with his wife.
My observation is that consultants generally hate this kind of thing, because it's uncontrolled. But it's actually quite positive in terms of energy and atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the future, and its definition, awaits.
Some try to spin myths in the aftermath.
The reality is that any other Democrat, with the possible exception of Senator Dianne Feinstein, would have drowned under the endless waves of spending by Whitman. The others lacked the resilience, stature, and combat skills of Jerry Brown. I say possible exception with regard to Feinstein, who I've predicted in every election since the '90s would never run for governor, including in conversation with Schwarzenegger the day before he announced his candidacy in the 2003 recall election. Ever since nearly losing to a free-spending Michael Huffington in her 1994 re-election campaign, Feinstein hasn't enjoyed campaigning. A campaign against the far bigger spending, and far nastier, Whitman did not appeal to her in the least.
Which did not mean that others did not want to run. Jerry and Anne Brown, assisted then by a small band of aides and a large network of advisors and backers, worked assiduously to clear the Democratic field. Several candidates, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and then Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, now a congressman, were insistent about running. But all dropped out in 2009, as I predicted last year that they would, even the most insistent of all, Gavin Newsom, whose withdrawal I broke on my New West Notes blog.
Brown would have beaten any of them handily -- never bet against a Brown in a California Democratic primary -- which Villaraigosa and Garamendi and the others realized relatively early on. But Newsom, perhaps egged on by his chief strategist Garry South, who has spent the last two years talking trash about Brown, making an endless string of erroneous forecasts, kept at it. With, oddly for someone running in a Democratic primary, the sort of attacks that played up Brown's liberal vulnerabilities.
For quite awhile, the young mayor, whose father was close to Brown, who made him a state appellate court justice, looked a very unwitting stalking horse for Meg Whitman. But Newsom finally quit the race a few weeks after former President Bill Clinton made a desultory fundraising stop for him in payback for his serving as a national co-chair of Hillary's presidential campaign, and advised that he couldn't beat Clinton's 1992 rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.
While many activists, pundits, and other supposed experts clamored for a primary, claiming Brown needed a warm-up, clearing the field -- and saving the five to eight million dollars needed to fend off a primary challenge -- was key to Brown's big victory this month. Brown saved the money he would need to go up against the biggest spending candidate in American history. And he preserved his political options, avoiding primary stances that might have interfered with what he needed to do to win independent voters.
Also key to Brown's big victory was the rightward move of the Republican Party. In fall 2007, Schwarzenegger addressed the California Republican Party convention outside Palm Springs, calling, in a speech I previewed in the Governor's Office the day before, for the party to move back towards the center. His appeal largely fell flat. Driving away from Palm Springs the next day, I called Brown and told him about the speech and its reception and the dynamics of the convention itself, noting that he had a golden opportunity to re-take the governorship, something he was already very seriously considering,
Schwarzenegger's onetime protege, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, the only other Republican to win election statewide in 2006, was already moving further to the right at that point to appeal to Republican voters. Not long after, it became apparent that Whitman, then national finance co-chair of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, intended to run for governor, too, despite the fact that she'd never bothered to get involved in state issues and had hardly ever voted.
Their hotly contested primary, which Whitman won in an avalanche of heavy spending and negative advertising after losing an early lead, was as central to Brown's ultimate landslide victory as his clearing the Democratic primary field had been.
Poizner had originally planned to run against Whitman on supply side economics. But he became persuaded that illegal immigration was the ticket. Whitman, who had a poor record of hiring Latino executives at eBay, favored comprehensive immigration reform as a basis for her plan to appeal to Latino voters in the general election against Brown, who had been a close friend and ally of Cesar Chavez. Poizner seized on the contradiction in Whitman's harsh rhetoric against social service recipients, many of whom are illegal immigrant children, and her backing for a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants already in California.
Her attacks pushed her way to the right on the issue, throwing off her general election positioning. And putting her in the kill zone when word finally emerged about her illegal immigrant housekeeper, about whom Poizner was unaware.
Once the primaries were over, Brown, who raised over $37 million but had to husband his resources against the biggest spending candidate in American history, had to get through the period pre-Labor Day period without getting swamped by Whitman's massive advertising blitz.
Whitman's plan was to build a 12 to 15-point lead over Brown during this period, making a Brown comeback impossible. But she failed to build any lead at all.
Mindful that even the best swimmer can drown in a tsunami, Brown's allies in organized labor pitched in. Between the end of the June primary and the beginning of Labor Day weekend, a little under $14 million was spent on Brown's behalf. The effort was far less than originally advertised, a little rickety at times, and heavily outspent by Whitman and her corporate allies, but was nonetheless quite helpful in Brown's victory.
The California Working Families group, spearheaded by consultants Roger Salazar and Larry Grisolano, played the lead independent expenditure (IE) committee role over the summer, with Working Californians, with John Hein and the late Bob Cherry, and AFSCME and media consultant Ricky Feller pitching in in major ways.
Could Brown, who artfully issued a series of high-profile statements both as attorney general and as the Democratic gubernatorial nominee during the summer, have held off Whitman without the IE help? It's an interesting question. At one point, when the IE advertising went dark for a few weeks during a miscommunication between union groups, Whitman's negatives continued to drift upward. She was clearly not wearing well, as I anticipated in this Huffington Post piece nine months before the election.
Still, it's not the sort of theory one would want to test in practice.
After Labor Day rolled around, Brown ramped things up and then it was a matter of executing his plan. Re-introduce himself to Californians, ironically as the fresh face on their screens after nearly a year of Whitman advertising, emphasizing his maverick qualities, frugality, inclusiveness, and championing of innovation and environmental protection.
His first ad was a bit problematic, but he made some adjustments and moved on. While Whitman employed a thoroughly dishonest TV ad hailed by many so-called experts as the best in years, utilizing long ago Bill Clinton attacks which were highly erroneous (which Clinton got from an erroneous press report), Brown executed his plan, which came off like clockwork notwithstanding a couple of heavily hyped glitches.
Whitman's campaign tactics were backfiring and Brown leading even before the fateful emergence at last of Whitman's very aggrieved illegal immigrant housekeeper. A long assured solid Brown win -- well, long assured in my coverage -- became a landslide Brown win and a Democratic sweep.