Back to the future: Will Jerry Brown be the next Democratic nominee for California governor?

California may soon experience a deja vu all over again of sorts. The 2010 election cycle may take us back to more than just bellbottoms, platform shoes, and disco. Jerry Brown, former governor of California (1975-1983), has established a 2010 Exploratory Committee for a run for governor.

For those living underneath a rock for the last 40 years, it is worth underscoring that Brown has developed a lengthy political resume. He’s served terms on the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees (1969-1971), as California Secretary of State (1971-1975), as Governor of California (1975-1983), as chair of the California Democratic Party (1989-1991), the Mayor of Oakland (1998-2006), and the Attorney General of California (2007-present). He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nominations for president in 1976, 1980, and 1992, and was an unsuccessful Democratic nominee for the United States Senate in 1982. Since Brown’s terms in office are not covered by the term limits that came into effect in 1990, he is not barred from running for Governor again, and has indicated that he plans to run for the office again in 2010.

What was 1970s Governor Brown about? He was opposed to the Vietnam War, supported environmental protection (repealed a tax break for the state’s big oil companies while passing tax-breaks for homeowner installation of solar panels), and appointed more women and minorities to office than any other previous California governor. As Governor, he passed landmark legislation to force full disclosure of finance and interest charges by credit card companies, allowed consumers to purchase generic drugs and created the nation’s first affordable “life-line” utility rates for seniors and needy residential customers. Brown signed landmark legislation adding public members to regulatory boards that previously had been controlled by industry representatives.

What might the Governor Brown of today be about?

  • Brown may be a supporter of marriage equality: The State Attorney General normally argues in support of laws that have been passed by the electorate. Brown took an unusual step by declining to defend Proposition 8, a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution that banned same-sex marriage.
  • He will continue to protect the environment: As Attorney General, Brown has led the fight against George Bush’s EPA, defended California’s landmark tailpipe emission laws and actively promoted local land use policies that reduce oil dependency and global warming.
  • Brown will fight mortgage fraud and real estate scams: As Attorney General, Brown has pursued companies and individuals who perpetrated massive mortgage fraud, including an $8.6 Billion settlement with Countrywide, and claims that he will also go after those who would further exploit the mortgage crisis by offering fraudulent “rescue” services.
  • He will support labor: As Attorney General, Brown has sued unscrupulous employers for denying workers wages and benefits required by state law, shut down companies that have jeopardized worker safety and prosecuted businesses that have bilked California’s workers’ compensation system or otherwise circumvented state tax and employment laws.
  • Brown will continue protecting consumers: As Attorney General, Brown has made consumer fraud prevention a top priority. In addition to vigorous pursuit of the mortgage scam artists, he has gone after price gouging, false advertising, and contaminated and unsafe products.
  • He will fight fraud and abuse in California’s health care system: As Attorney General, Brown has sued medical laboratories for massive overcharges, stopped rip-offs in the Medi-Cal Program, cracked down on unlawful abuse of prescription drugs, fought misleading ad campaigns by major drug companies and arrested nursing home operators for forcibly drugging elderly patients.

Progressive Pushback

Despite Brown’s Progressive past, on a recent campaign stop in Orange County, he left a bad aftertaste in the mouths of Los Angeles Progressive Democrats who attended:

Brown refused to endorse any changes to Prop 13, saying he did not think it was “needed” and that “we’ve got to downsize government to the maximum degree.” He also voiced support for the three-strikes law, and would not take a stance on a “public option” for health care. He did support scrapping the “two-thirds” rule for passing a state budget (but not taxes), and endorsed a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants – but with no candidate running to his left, this was the best that progressives can hope from Jerry Brown. Given California’s mammoth problems that need immediate attention, that’s depressing.

It will be interesting to see what the new year brings as Brown faces formidable Republican candidates Meg Whitman, Steve Poizner, and Tom Campbell.

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