Jerry Brown’s first governorship was marked by what one might term – charitably – a high degree of flexibility.
Although he generally hewed to a liberal line after his 1974 election, Brown was often willing to bend ideology for political advantage, a tendency that some called “flakiness.”
Most famously, prior to the 1978 election in which voters enacted Proposition 13, the landmark property tax limit, Brown denounced it as a “consumer rip-off” but afterward, he abruptly changed his tune, declared himself to be a “born-again tax cutter” and championed a big state tax cut.
Brown claimed virtue in his pirouettes. “Nothing in life is so rigid that there aren’t developments,” he said at one point. “That’s true in politics. That’s true in theology. That’s true in personal relations. And for those small minds that slavishly adhere to foolish consistency, their irrelevance is their best reward.”
Brown revived his political career a decade ago by becoming mayor of Oakland, climbed another rung up the ladder in 2006 by being elected attorney general and now is the unchallenged Democratic candidate for governor next year.
If elected, he would be exactly twice as old as he was in 1974. But, he may be even more inconsistent now – and it’s driving left-wing Democrats nuts.
When Brown was running for attorney general in 2006, he was critical of a lawsuit that then-AG Bill Lockyer had filed against automakers, accusing them of illegally selling cars that contribute to global warming.
Brown, in a newspaper interview, suggested that the Lockyer suit was “speculative” rather than good law, and doubted whether a “causation” link between cars and a diminished snowpack in the Sierra could be proved. But as soon as he was elected, Brown shifted sharply, calling it “a solid case and we’re going to pursue it vigorously.”
As AG, Brown adopted global warming as his cause, suing or threatening to sue local governments that didn’t adopt land use and transportation policies to his liking. More lately, however, he has edged toward the political center, saying that state regulation has become too intrusive.
“We are moving every year to add more and more legal prescription to our lives, to our organizations, to our businesses and how we all function,” he said in a recent speech, without a trace of irony about his own regulatory activism. “We’re overlaid with too many rules.”
At another point, Brown rejected tax increases, sounding like a born-again Republican. “As a candidate, if you even peep about a tax, you’re dead,” he said. “We’ve got to downsize government to the maximum degree. We’ve got to make it efficient and bring it to the community.”
Judging from comments on blogs such as Calitics, Brown’s new centrism is creating much angst in the leftist “netroots” faction of his party, whose young adherents have no memory of Brown’s erratic first governorship. It’s all rather amusing.