Governor Moonbeam Returns

When Ronald Reagan completed his second term as Governor, Californians elected in his place the youngest man to hold the job in the twentieth century. Jerry Brown began with an advantage. Not only was he the Secretary of State but his father had been governor, serving two terms before Reagan. Since retiring from the governorship Brown has had an eventful career. He lost the Democratic nomination for President three times – twice to Jimmy Carter and once to Bill Clinton. He also lost a Senate race, served as Chair of the California Democratic Party, lived in Asia for a while, converted to Buddhism, and made something of an electoral comeback.

In the 1990s he became Mayor of Oakland, is now Attorney General of the state, and is contemplating another run for the governor’s office. This time, if elected, he will be the oldest man ever to hold the office. He was governor before term limits were adopted, so they don’t apply.

Brown keeps reinventing himself. In the 1970s he was an enthusiast for space travel – earning him the nickname “Governor Moonbeam” – and an early environmentalist. He’s been a ranting, left-wing, talk show host. During his third presidential campaign in 1992 he advocated a flat rate for federal income tax, which later became a cause for the Republican right. He called for an era of limits on government 20 years before Bill Clinton. He is hard to place on the political spectrum.

But his campaign for the governorship is a very serious one. He has held three of the top elected offices in the state. He has already seen off major primary challenges from the mayors of San Francisco – a hero to the gay community – and Los Angeles – the most powerful Hispanic politician in the US. There has been talk of the immensely popular US Senator, Dianne Feinstein, challenging him, but he polls better than she does against all the possible Republican challengers.

His most serious opponent now is probably former eBay CEO, Meg Whitman. She will spend millions of her own money. This year seems to be shaping up as a Republican year, but Brown is probably still the favorite to take the biggest job on the ballot in November.

And Governor Moonbeam will be entertaining. The anti-business rants of the 1990s have gone. As Mayor of Oakland he developed strong links with business and helped turn the fortunes of the town around. He has a good record of picking issues that would later set the political world alight. Of course, a cynic could suggest he has supported so many different political ideas over the years – some of them compatible with each other – that he was sure to settle on a few that would later become popular – environmentalism, tax cuts, government limits, anti-business populism – but the record is impressive nonetheless.

Will he run for President again? Who knows? He will turn 73 in 2012, and his party will not be looking for a new nominee that year. Would he run as an independent? Or under the banner of the Green Party? If Barack Obama is looking vulnerable, he just might. He’s left the Democratic Party before, and still returned to chair the state party and later winstatewide office. And if the Governor of California ran an independent candidacy, it would be a formidable one.

Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

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