Jerry Brown still has a year and a half left in office, but we miss him already. The once and current governor, who ran for president way too many times, got called Moonbeam, got into Zen mediation, had one of the all-time great political comebacks and led the state from the brink of fiscal insolvency, closing a $26 billion deficit. He is our very own angry old man yelling at Democrats to not spend too much, at Trump to not abandon the fight against climate change and at kids to get off his lawn (probably).
Here's why we love the mean old bastard so much:
8. He's now our country's de facto climate change leader.
Two months ago, President Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accord, effectively sending a message to the world that the United States is no longer interested in combating climate change. A week later, Brown showed up in China and met with President Xi Jinping to discuss global warming and green technology. Since then, Brown managed to get the state Legislature to extend its cap-and-trade policy (which was by no means a sure thing) and has emerged as the de facto American leader on climate change — a spokesman for the cause, albeit in his own, cantankerous way.
"This isn't about some cockamamie legacy," he said recently. "This isn't for me, I'm going to be dead. It's for you, and it's damn real."
7. He's cheap as hell.
Brown grew up during World War II, in the era of rationing, an experience that shaped his thinking. As he told Bloomberg Businessweek, "This idea you can have ice cream every night? Ice cream was for your birthday. ... It wasn’t an austere world. In fact, it was a normal world. It’s only austere juxtaposing the indulgence, the overconsumption, the profligacy — people don’t like those words because part of our economic growth is buying all this stuff.” (No, Governor, people don't like those words because (a) they're too long and (b) ice cream is delicious.)
There's a great Brown anecdote from Linda Ronstadt's memoir, Simple Dreams. The pop singer, who was dating Brown at the time, was on her way to singer Rosemary Clooney's house for dinner when Brown made an appearance:
I was dressed and ready to leave for Rosemary’s when Jerry Brown came by unexpectedly. I told him I was on my way to dinner, and he said he was hungry and wanted to go too. I called Rosemary and asked if it would be all right to bring Jerry, and she said it was fine. As we were getting ready to leave, Jerry noticed a large box of roses someone had sent to me sitting on the table in my entryway. Probably feeling a little sheepish about inviting himself to dinner, and being a person who is notoriously tight with a dollar, he picked them up and said, "We can take these to Rosemary."
"But they’re mine!" I protested.
He shot me a mischievous grin. "If I take the card out, they’ll be hers." The flowers went with us to Rosemary’s house.
During his first stint as governor, Brown famously drove a 1974 Ford Plymouth instead of riding around in a chauffeured limousine, as many of his predecessors had. He eschewed the newly constructed governor's mansion, commissioned by his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, opting instead for a $250-a-month apartment in town and, according to legend, a mattress on the floor. Even today, Brown is known for flying coach on Southwest without an entourage.
Just spotted Governor Jerry Brown departing a Southwest flight at the Burbank Airport.— Anthony Volkar (@ucdvolkie) May 9, 2017
6. He's a man of simple taste.
Shortly after taking office in 2010, according to the Los Angeles Times, Brown invited the state's top budget official over to his office for lunch. Brown ordered a single hard-boiled egg. He told the official: "I don't go to the theater. I don't golf. This is what I do."
Quite the contrast to our last governor — and our current president.
5. He has easily the best official portrait of any governor ever.
The official portrait, from Brown's first term as governor, was painted by Santa Monica portrait artist Don Bachardy, who once told KPPC's John Rabe: "He couldn't understand why I'd want him for five sittings. ... He found sitting still very difficult."
At the Capitol, the painting was not exactly an instant hit. According to a New York Magazine piece from 1984:
When the portrait arrived in Sacramento, legislators took one look at the broad brushstrokes and bright orange and red skin tones and decided it looked as if it had been painted with "spilled ketchup and soy sauce." After an eight-minute debate, the Legislature's Joint Rules Committee voted, without dissent, to hang the portrait on a third-floor stairwell, far from the rest of the governors' portraits.
4. He's kind of a jerk.
The first time I met Brown, it was at an event a few months after he'd announced his candidacy for governor. We were by the hors d'oeuvres table. He was munching on prosciutto, surveying his options.
I asked him when he was going to start campaigning.
"Tuesday," he told me, still scanning the table. He looked as if he'd just gotten up from a nap. "Don't you know anything?"
Jerry Brown. Kind of a jerk.
Back in 1984, when his portrait was unveiled, as New York Magazine wrote:
Democratic Assemblyman Lou Papan, of San Francisco, announced that, although he was relegating the portrait to a third-floor stairwell, he thought Bachardy had done an excellent job capturing Brown's falconlike glare. "I think it's very well done," said Papan, who like everyone else in the Legislature had endured years of criticism from Brown. "It catches a lot of the expressions I remember."
"Yeah," a fellow Democrat from Bakersfield replied, "like the warmth in his eyes."
3. He loves Burrito King.
From Gil Duran, Jerry Brown's former press secretary:
Brown never misses a chance to visit the Echo Park burrito stand, the first in a chain and his "favorite since 1967." As Duran told the EastsiderLA, "He lived in the area in the late '60s, on Laguna Avenue in Echo Park and on Lucile in Silver Lake."
2. He's wicked smart.
As a young man, Brown studied to be a Jesuit priest, taking a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. He says Pope John XXIII later dispensed him from those obligations. When studying at Yale, he took a psychiatry class with Sigmund Freud's daughter Anna. He studied Roman law. He speaks Latin. As the Economist wrote in 2008, "Latin quotes and musings on the impermanence of life pepper his speeches. He asks your bewildered correspondent about German environmental policy and 16th-century history. He is a startlingly cultured man in what is sadly an often boorish profession."
Brown is fond of this Nietzsche quote: "A thinking man can never be a party man." And he's friends with French philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy, who practices something called "enlightened doomsaying."
Brown is a dour, introspective guy. He once told the Atlantic about an exam question he took, where he was asked to write his "impression of a green leaf." The question frustrated Brown; he couldn't come up with a good answer. "I thought, 'This is just a bunch of clichés — this is not my impression of a green leaf.' So I started thinking, 'How do you have an impression?' And I would walk by a tree and think, 'Where’s my impression? I don’t feel anything. Am I dead inside?'"
He added: "This is a very powerful question that has haunted me for 50 years."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
1. This amazing passage from a New York Times Magazine profile by Adam Nagourney:
Brown’s eyes flickered around his office in the Horseshoe — a U-shaped warren of offices that make up the governor’s quarters at the State Capitol — as a bustle of visitors, aides and animals streamed through. It was a warm day in early March, and Jane Goodall had shown up unannounced to promote her campaign to save the chimpanzees. She swept in with an entourage, holding a stuffed monkey that Brown could not stop staring at. Goodall informed Brown that she used satellites to track deforestation and suggested that similar technology could be put to good use safeguarding California’s environment. Brown stared back blankly. “Too bad we don’t have our California satellite, Mr. Moonbeam,” Anne Gust Brown said to her husband, a reference to an ill-fated 1970s initiative that helped Brown earn his nickname. The governor’s dog, a Pembroke Welsh corgi named Sutter, charged in and out, prompting sporadic ruminations by Brown on the psychic motivations of canines. “I don’t know what moves him, he just decides to come in,” he said to Anne. “Dogs are ambassadors from another world.”