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Why Republicans should like Jerry Brown as governor

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POSTED June 11, 2009 1:45 a.m.
Jerry Brown was right.

Thirty-one years ago when Brown ended his second term as governor of California he not only had reduced taxes but had built up the largest state surplus ever. On his watch, California created 1 out of every 4 new jobs in the nation. He also was the trailblazer for building and energy appliance standards as well as solar and alternative energy.

How did Brown do it? Simple. He refused to spend money like a fleet of sailors on a 48-hour leave after two years on the high seas. If California had continued to move forward at the end of Brown’s first go around as governor using his discipline and out-of-the-box thinking it is doubtful we’d be going through much of the pain that we are today.

Meg Whitman has expertise at running a profitable internet company. Brown, though, has arguably the best record in the last 40 years of running the world’s seventh largest economy known as California.

I didn’t think so at the time. It was my first election after turning 18. It was a choice between Houston Flourny and Jerry Brown. I voted Republican.  There was nothing that really set the two candidates apart in 1974 save for the fact one was Republican and one was Democrat. The second time around when Brown was up against Evellle Younger, the death penalty and the controversy over the appointment of Rose Bird to the State Supreme Court without any experience on the bench was at full boil. By the end of his second term, half of California was ready to storm Sacramento after Adrianna Gianturrco whom he had appointed to oversee Caltrans had jammed up $14 billion in road projects due to her Boston philosophy that mass transit should work everywhere in California.

It was Brown who –after speaking out stridently against Proposition 13 – did everything in his power to implement it after it passed. He was criticized by his own party for not continuing the fight but Brown noted astutely that “it was the will of the people.”

He may not have seen things the way I did in regards to the death penalty but in the overall scheme of things as California’s chief administrator he did what was right when it was needed to keep California running.

Brown’s austere lifestyle – he opted for a state-issued Plymouth over the governor’s limo plus maintained a Spartan apartment across from the State Capitol as the official mansion with sparse furnishings that included a basic futon as his bed – was ridiculed. In a day and age where politicians live high on the hog on the wallets of taxpayers, Brown was everyman’s governor.

So why didn’t I cut Brown slack back then? My attitude during his run as governor reflects where so many of us get blinded by single issues where we will often vilify an elected leader who actually is probably best suited for a job simply because they didn’t agree with us on a hot button issue.

Brown and I disagreed on the death penalty and two appointments he made – Rose Bird and Adrianna Gianturcco. In retrospect, those shortcomings from my perspective should have been greatly outweighed by his effectiveness overall as governor.

Back when Richard Nixon died, protesters took to the streets in some cities gloating about the fact he was dead.

The protesters all had liberal left leanings whether they were anti-war or anti-big business. The truth is, however, that Richard Nixon should have been lauded by liberals. His record was one of the most liberal of the 20th century. He enacted the Endangered Species Act, the Earned Income Credit, and normalized relations with China and even tried government price controls. None of those major social, economic or foreign policy efforts could be considered conservative at the time or even today.

Bill Clinton, vilified by the right as Nixon was vilified by the left, actually overall was a pretty conservative president who gave fiscally conservative Republicans what they strived to attain.

Did Clinton have the morals of an alley cat? Perhaps, but the real issue is what he did as president as a whole. In the grand scheme of things the infamous indiscretion outside the Oval Office doesn’t negate his fiscally conservative record in terms of budgeting and spending tax dollars.

Gavin Newsom is trying to paint Brown as part of the problem in Sacramento. Trouble is Brown was one of the few governors that has ever gotten it right – you don’t spend money just because it is rolling into state coffers.

Of course, there will be Republicans who claim I can’t possibly be a registered Republican. If restrained government spending which translates into less government is a Republican battle cry, I’d argue “true” Republican will be voting for Jerry Brown and not Meg Whitman or Tom Campbell.
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