Jerry’s Bell Opening . . . and Campaign Opening Bell?
If Jerry Brown goes on to win California’s gubernatorial contest, remember this day (July 25) as the moment his sleepy campaign perhaps finally showed signs of life.
Early in the day, the Democratic candidate and erstwhile state Attorney General waded into the Bell pension scandal by announcing that his office had subpoened employment records — ostensibly, to get to the bottom of the question of how the Los Angeles suburb managed to get away with such exhoritant pensions for its top city employees.
For added dramatic effect, Jerry gave Bell officials only 48 hours to cough up the documents.
Then, cherry on top of the sundae, Jerry got time on the Fox News Channel (Neil Cavuto’s show) to express his anger and outrage over this, the biggest pension-related scandal to hit California in recent times. Real or feigned, it’s a good day for a Democratic candidate when they beat their Republican rival to the punch on “fair and balanced”.
So who or what put the burr in the Brown campaign’s saddle?
Maybe it had something to do with the calendar. Sunday, July 24, marked 100 days until the Nov. 2 general election. So, perhaps, Brown’s internal clock is telling him it’s time to get busy.
Or, maybe, it has more to do with history — specifically, Jerry’s past experience in seeking this particular office.
Let’s go back to 1978 and the last time Jerry Brown ran for governor. He was up for re-election, and his Republican challenger was Evelle Younger.
Younger, California’s Attorney General at the time, had just emerged as the victor in a crowded four-man primary that included LAPD Chief Ed Davis, State Sen. Ken Maddy and a little-known mayor from San Diego and fourth-place finisher named Pete Wilson (years later, Wilson would joke that his first run for statewide office was “a haven for people who hated large crowds”).
On paper, Younger was in a prime position to pounce in the general election. Proposition 13 has just passed overwhelmingly on the June ballot (65% approval) and, in Howard Jarvis and a group of angry anti-tax activists, the Golden State was three decades ahead of the rest of the nation as far as “tea partying” goes. Moreover, Brown had called the measure a “rip-off”.
If that campaign were run in 2010, let’s assume the Republican nominee would be running on the topic of taxes and government. Running night and day, without fail.
But, in 1978, campaigns were a different creature.
Rather than riding the momentum of his primary win and fashioning himself as Howard Jarvis’ newest bff, Younger instead took a vacation in Hawaii. After he returned to the mainland, he checked into a hospital to have a kidney stone surgically removed, followed by recovery time at home.
All told his campaign went dark for over a month.
But not the Brown re-elect effort.
First, Jerry pulled off a nifty flip-flop on Prop 13, declaring himself a “born-again tax-cutter”. As Californologist Joe Matthews explains, Brown justified the change of heart by contending that he had to support Prop 13 because, as governor it was his duty to uphold the state constitution.
And, for good measure, Brown’s campaign ran a radio spot (today it would be YouTube) reminding California voters (to the backdrop of ukelele-strumming) that, while Younger was in Hawaii, their governor was on the job in Sacramento. Ouch.
The bottom line: Younger not gave away the momentum in the race, but he also ceeded the high ground on Prop 13.
Now let’s get back to 201o . . .
In Meg Whitman, Brown has an opponent who isn’t Younger. But she is restless: her campaign has continued at a dizzying pace since the June primary, running an aggressive media campaign that’s simulatenously pro-Meg, anti-Jerry and tailored to both mainstream and specialty tv.
And Brown? Like that other attorney general back in 1978, his far less visible campaign is running the risk of losing both the policy and moral high ground in this election. And where is that high ground? In 1978, it was property taxes. Today it just might be the public’s growing frustration with public pension benefits.
So credit Brown with not just surfing the pension rage, but (for now, at least) also positioning himself with the pound-of-flesh crowd. Let’s see if this can last — in particular, if the Whitman campaign tries to use Brown’s sudden populist fervor (and his seeming shift to the right on pensions) to drive wedge between the caniddate and his public-employee underwriters.