MORE

Welcome Home, Jerry Brown

Congratulations, Jerry Brown. You just won a popularity contest with an uptight billionaire who liked to shove people. Now you get to govern. The coming days will be bathed in soft-focus nostalgia, as Californians remember the car they were driving when you were last governor, back when the state's problems were just problems, instead of catastrophes. We might even get to see your old Plymouth Satellite, which is on display at a Sacramento car museum.

Congratulations, too, on becoming the oldest person ever elected governor of California. You could break some other records as well. If you serve a full term, you'll beat Earl Warren's mark for the longest tenure. If you run again in four years, when you're 76, you could become the oldest governor in U.S. history.

Don Novey, former head of the prison guards union, said you told him twice you won't seek a fourth term. But you haven't ruled it out publicly, and if you're healthy, what's to stop you?

A word of caution, though: If you thought the 1970s were an era of limits, wait till you see the 2010s.

The state is teetering on the brink of insolvency, while the Democrats have a long list of pent-up demands. You were onstage recently when Speaker of the Assembly John Pérez, a former labor organizer, called Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger "the biggest jerk in the world" because he wouldn't roll over for labor's budget priorities.

How long before he's saying that about you?

"It'll be a little like having family," says Roger Salazar, a Pérez spokesman. "You're gonna get into your squabbles, but you're all fighting for the same goal. Is it going to be contentious? Yes."

Surely you remember the last time a Democrat was in charge. Gov. Gray Davis and Senate Democratic strongman John Burton hated each other.

You're a bit more charming than Gray, and you played the cranky-but-lovable uncle pretty well in the campaign. But you're no glad-hander, and you don't suffer fools.

Folks may fondly recall your first governorship, which itself owed a lot to nostalgia for your father, Pat Brown. But you had a strained relationship with the Legislature even in the Moonbeam years.

"It was not an open hostility. They just didn't understand this odd duck who had somehow become governor," recalls Doug Willis, who ran the Associated Press bureau in Sacramento at the time. "There was a distance. He didn't pay them great homage."

You did have Speaker Leo McCarthy in your corner, and he helped you achieve some real accomplishments, until that relationship soured.

Pérez is not likely to be so helpful. He'll do what's best for organized labor, whether it's best for you or not. Whether it's on the budget or pensions or education reform, sooner rather than later you'll be saying no.

"If the Democratic special-interest groups think they're going to get everything they want, they're sadly mistaken," says Steve Maviglio, a top aide to former Speaker Fabian Núñez. "It's going to be a give-and-take."

Labor will want you to go to the voters for a tax increase, which will be a tough sell with a cash-strapped electorate.

"The revenue issue is a priority," says Maria Elena Durazo, head of the L.A. County Federation of Labor. "We can't just keep whacking and whacking and whacking the budget."

Even if you manage to steer a middle course, Sacramento is a much more polarized place than it was when you left the governor's office in 1982.

"It's an entirely different game now," says Dan Walters, the veteran columnist for The Sacramento Bee. "It's been the bane of the last three governors to try to deal with an increasingly ideological legislature."

Your mantra used to be "a flexible plan for an ever-changing world." You stuck to that in this campaign, making few concrete promises.

That may have been clever politics, but the state's perennial budget crisis and its systemic shortcomings leave little room for flexibility.

And you didn't campaign on a platform of major structural reform. That means you don't have a mandate to do what has to be done to repair the system, argues Joe Mathews, co-author of California Crack-Up: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It.

Mathews argues that without major structural reform, there won't be much you can do except muddle through. And when things don't get appreciably better, the nostalgia will wear off fast.

"I suspect this will be a failed governorship," Mathews says. "There will be a hard turn against him. He will provide a big, rich target and a way to explain what's wrong."

But who knows? Maybe you'll find a way.

Your favorite Latin motto, the one you picked up in the Jesuit seminary and bestowed on your military academy in Oakland, is Age quod agis: Do what you are doing.

But as you take the reins of this broken state, another line seems just as apt: Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit. Perhaps even this will someday be a pleasant memory.

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >