By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
WHAT’S THIS? Military-school cadets, anticrime strike forces, questioning his predecessor’s climate-change lawsuit against car companies because they haven’t broken the law? Not very “Moonbeamish” of Jerry Brown.
“The Moonbeam has landed,” says Brown, the former two-term California governor and twice a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, now California’s new attorney general. “That’s what Mike Royko said a few years after he called me that,” referring to the infamous term applied to Brown in his 1970s heyday by the late hard-boiled Chicago columnist.
He’s at his inaugural reception earlier this month in the ornate War Memorial Building across from the spacious Beaux Arts rotunda of San Francisco City Hall, where he was sworn into office in a ceremony featuring an a cappella Latin choir and an honor guard of cadets from Oakland Military Institute on the sweeping staircase behind him.
As mayor of gritty Oakland, Brown established the military-institute charter school, which was aimed at educating kids who were failing in the horrific Oakland public schools — but his school-reform experiment set off outraged objections from antimilitary lefties in the East Bay. And Brown, while Catholic, is not a pacifist. While he thinks Iraq is a mess, he strongly supported U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and Bosnia before that, and actually served on the board of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
The inaugural ceremony reflected decades of Brown family influence upon the Golden State. There was none of the Schwarzeneggerian pomp and panoply. Only Brown and his influential wife, Anne Gust Brown, were onstage with Brown’s niece, Judge Kathleen Kelly, who swore him in to the same office held decades ago by his father. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, whose father, former Appellate Court Justice Billy Newsom, is an old family friend, introduced the former governor as “one of a kind.” Afterward, Brown mused, “I think about my father now. The law is not just about change, it’s about tradition. We have so many laws. Each governor seems to add about 10,000 of them. That’s how many I did. I want the ones we have to work.”
THIS IS NOT YOUR FATHER’S Jerry Brown. In a way, it’s his father’s Jerry Brown. The two governors had a sometimes spiky relationship. But after Pat Brown died in 1996, Jerry Brown began to speak sometimes of “the family business.”
Brown’s new headquarters for attorney general, at least for now, will be in Oakland, as is the loft he shares — in a funky former Sears building — with his wife. Brown says he will be in Sacramento when he needs to be, but doesn’t seem anxious to hang out there.
His purview, as head of the state’s Department of Justice, is wide ranging. Most of the somewhat far-flung inhabitants in his department are civil servants, and, while he is the state’s “top cop” and as such has his own team of investigators, he will spend a great deal of his time overseeing what is in essence a large public law firm.
HIS PLANS FOR THE JOB, and his actions so far, will come as a great surprise to those who have not been paying attention to Brown’s strange and fascinating political journey as mayor of Oakland. Less than a month on the job, he has already adopted a hard line on Jessica’s Law, a crackdown on sex predators overwhelmingly approved by voters last November and opposed only by the furthest left wing of the Democratic Party — which once saw Brown as, if not one of its own, an ally. He could be a friendly ear to developers after his open war with NIMBYs in Oakland. And he’s distancing himself from an environmental-emissions lawsuit against car manufacturers by his splashy predecessor, Bill Lockyer, who critics said was pursuing a media-sexy case that had little to no basis in law.
Although Brown was a more centrist governor in the 1970s than people remember, pushing use-a-gun-and-go-to-jail laws and ushering in an era of sharp increases in incarceration rates, another major factor in what seems to casual observers to be creating a more down-to-earth and politically moderate Brown today is his wife, Anne Gust Brown.
Many people wanted to be on Jerry Brown’s transition team, but in the end there was really only his wife, who was his campaign manager. “Oh, Jerry takes direction extremely well,” she says with an impish laugh.
Though she has a dog named Dharma, Anne Gust Brown is not especially moonbeamish. She’s a very smart, witty graduate of a top law school, the University of Michigan, and a former corporate executive. First as The Gap’s general counsel, then as the company’s executive vice president and chief administrative officer, she was deeply involved in its management.
Now, she’s deeply involved in the management of a major politician, and she’ll serve as an unpaid “special counsel” to her husband. Says Jerry Brown, “If you can’t get in to see me, you can talk to her. And if you can’t talk to her, you probably can’t get in to see me.”
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