Talk about a study in personal contrasts: upstart Rocky Delgadillo from the rough streets of Highland Park versus “Governor Moonbeam,” the mercurial Jerry Brown, the son of a governor who has lived the life of a rock star.
Delgadillo promises to keep the streets safe, fight for health benefits for low-income families, and battle big insurance companies, drug companies and corporate polluters.
What would Moonbeam do? The second-term mayor of Oakland, stung by recent attacks on his stance on abortion, is promising to protect women’s right to choose, fight for fair wages and workers’ compensation, and bring visionary zeal to environmentalism.
First, Brown has to quell rising concerns about Oakland’s annual homicide rate, which, despite an overall 30 percent reduction in crime since he was elected in 1998, has doubled to 50 murders so far this year.
State’s attorneys prosecute crime locally, but the A.G.’s office handles death-penalty appeals and civil cases, enforces state environmental and gambling laws and represents state agencies. Currently, Delgadillo is city attorney in a city of 4 million people. Brown is the mayor of a city of 400,000 people. The A.G. represents almost 34 million people with a staff of 5,000 lawyers, law enforcers and civil servants. Having been secretary of state, from 1971 to 1975, and governor, from 1975 to 1983, Brown is campaigning on his vast statewide experience, his name and his resilience as a politician.
With Brown leading by 40 points, poll watchers say the race in this Democratic primary — the winner of which will face Republican Chuck Poochigian — is over. But Delgadillo is said to be churning statewide as if his life depended on it. And Brown, at age 68, in his 11th campaign for public office, brings a long career in public life that is susceptible to scrutiny and attack.
Delgadillo has attacked him on his stance on abortion and on his record fighting crime. Brown, a former seminarian, spoke out years ago against the idea of killing an unborn fetus, and in favor of clemency for an anti-abortion activist. Key allies, like U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, have defended his support for the right to choose, and he has claimed it is one of his main commitments. He has been a longtime supporter of gay rights.
Brown is reminded of his 1994 attack on three-strikes legislation, his veto of the death penalty while governor, and his appointment of former Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court Rose Bird, who was forced off the bench for striking down too many death sentences. Recently, he has drawn criticism for proposing police budget cuts in 2003 and for a sudden rise in violent crime and prostitution among minors. The overall police budget in Oakland has grown since 1999, and he has imposed curfews on parolees.
He says he opposes the death penalty on moral grounds but will enforce California’s death penalty laws if elected attorney general.
Matters of life and death tug at voters’ hearts and minds. But it is the civil arena where an attorney general can make a difference. So confronting corporations on workers’ rights, the environment and health care is a top priority for any Democratic candidate.
Delgadillo has plenty of friends who happen to be plaintiff’s lawyers, so he shouldn’t have trouble finding political, legal or financial support for high-profile attacks on big, dirty business. He has said he will resist attempts by the Bush administration to hack away at environmental standards or drill for oil offshore. Brown has championed innovative environmental solutions his whole career. The words “wind, solar and geothermal” flow from his lips with ease. In the past, he has been out front on lowering vehicle emissions. He too opposes offshore drilling.
In the end, what voters face is a decision between an upstart with an inspiring story and a great name — a guy who has taken on crime by expanding the use of gang injunctions and who promises to fight corporate greed — versus an old lion with experience in virtually every area of government who promises a renewed focus on workers.