The last time Jerry Brown had a sustained national audience, it was the winter and spring of 1992, when he challenged Bill Clinton for the Democrats’ presidential nomination. Much has changed in those two decades, but Brown – a former two-term governor of California – is betting that people still remember his firebrand version of liberal, progressive politics. Today, he announced his candidacy for a new term as California governor, putting himself in a political race that has national implications by dint of the state’s status as America’s most populous (and politically important) state.
It’s possible that Brown could even make another presidential run, but first things first: In November, Brown must get past the Republican nominee for governor (likely Meg Whitman). Polls indicate that Brown and Whitman are in a dead heat, but Brown’s official entry into the race should galvanize an electorate that is looking for someone with his experience: An insider with an outsider’s perspective.
During his ’92 campaign, and his years (1975-1983) in the governor’s seat, Brown championed ideas (green energy, healthcare and tax reform, etc.) that are now widely accepted. When I interviewed Brown six years ago in his office (when he was then mayor of San Francisco’s urban neighbor, Oakland), he was as combative and innovative as ever. Brown has never fit into an easy label, despite the “Governor Moonbeam” appellation that followed him for years. He’s a thinking person’s politician – one who, in many ways, is to the left of Barack Obama.
To see Brown’s political style, watch the video below of his 1992 campaign visit to Boston, then the next video that shows him last year, speaking before a California union. It’s vintage Brown – eloquent; inspiring; elliptical; truculent, funny. All in the same speech. As I put it in my profile of Brown (who’s now California’s attorney general), he’s a paradox – but a paradox worth following.
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