The Forgotten Years


Jerry Brown was elected governor of California in November of 1974, succeeding Governor Ronald Reagan, who retired after serving two terms.  Reagan had become governor after defeating Brown’s father, Governor Pat Brown in the 1966 election.  Jerry Brown was sworn in as governor on January 6, 1975.

Brown was a liberal Democrat known for his opposition to the war in Vietnam and the death penalty.  These positions gave him a strong base among California’s liberals at a time when Democrats were divided over both of these issues.  As Governor, Jerry refused many of the privileges of the office.  He refused to move into the newly built governor’s mansion.  (It was later sold in 1983.)  Governor Brown rented a small apartment in downtown Sacramento near the Capital.  Instead of using a chauffeured limousine as previous governors, Brown used a compact sedan.

During his eight years as governor, Brown established a strong environmental record creating new law and regulations. Brown appointed John Broyson, a founding member of the Natural Resources Defense Council as chairman of the California State Water Board in 1976.

Governor Brown’s environmentalism was as marked by support of the environment as it was opposition to businesses perceived by the public as unfriendly to the environment.

He appointed his 1974 campaign manger, Tom Quinn, as Chairman of the California Air Resources Board, leading to questions of the politicization of the Board.  The question was raised again in August of 1978 when Attorney General Evelle Younger – and Brown’s opponent – charged that Chairman “Quinn was acting politically when he asked a federal court to remove Younger (the Attorney General) from a smog control suit because of an alleged conflict of interest.”  Younger proceeded to release a letter from Governor Brown’s Office that congratulated the Attorney General on the way Younger had pursued the case.

A significant success occurred in 1975 when Brown obtained the repeal of the oil depletion allowance, a tax break for California’s oil companies.  Brown used harsh criticism of  “big oil” to tap environmental concerns and support for his actions.  Usually pro-business but moderate Republican State Senator Robert S. Stevens cast the key vote against the depletion allowance in the California State Senate.  Former Republican Assemblyman and ex-gubernatorial candidate Joe Shell who represented the oil industry in California said that Stevens had pledged to Shell that he would vote to keep the depletion allowance.  Shell was quoted as saying of Stevens: “He had shaken my hand and told me he was with me.”  Brown subsequently recognize Stevens with an appointment as a judge.  (See this website’s section on Judge Stevens.)

Brown proposed and subsequently passed a landmark tax incentive  in 1977 for home-owners who installed solar panels and established the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

He was a national leader in promoting solar, wind and biomass for energy as Governor back in the 1970s.  At the same time, he was the nation’s leader in opposing the building of nuclear power plants.

He also fought every proposed effort to drill for oil off California’s coast, and claims credit for making the California Coastal Commission permanent.  He enacted the nation’s toughest air quality regulations in the nation.

His pro-environmental position probably led to his failure to address a major crises facing California agriculture: the Med-Fly infestation beginning in 1980.  By July 17, 1981, the LA Times was reporting that “The state entomologist who kicked off Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s Mediterranean fruit fly team … says the Medfly fight has been lost and that the insect spreading destruction through the state’s agricultural industry has firmly established itself in California.”  “Allen, demoted to … a minor job … said that he began warning state officials last fall that the state was responding with too little, too late.”

Brown transformed the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) from the nation’s foremost freeway builder in the nation.  Building of freeways became a struggle between the legislature (pro-freeway) and the governor.  Not only was freeway building cut to the bone, but the California Department of Transportation suffered such a shock that it has never recovered.

His appointment of Adriana Gianturko as the head of CalTrans was one of his most controversial appointments.

His smog regulations favored low sulfur oil which led to economic advantages for his father, former Governor Pat Brown, who owned a large share of the Perta Oil Co. which imported Indonesian oil.  The military Junta that ruled Indonesia was a major exporter of low sulfur oil.  (Brown received his share of the business from Pat Brown when he left the governor’s office.  See Facts.)

Governor Brown could certainly argue that he was one of the nation’s foremost environmental governors if not the nation’s governor who had done more to enact stiff environmental regulations than any other governor in the nation.

Brown, with many Hollywood ties (including friend Linda Ronstadt), beefed up the California Arts Council, by appointing artists to the council and increasing its funding by an eye popping 1,300 percent.

He was known as Governor for appointing more women and minorities than any previous governor.  Many of his appointments were “firsts”.  Critics would argued that gender or race was more important than ability with Brown.

Other than the environment, Governor Brown’s liberal record will be most secure in the area of law enforcement where he continued his opposition to the death penalty and vetoed a death penalty bill in 1977 which was passed by the legislature over his opposition.  He appointed justices to the California Supreme Court – and other courts – who opposed the death penalty including Chief Justice Rose Bird.  (See this website’s section on Chief Justice Bird.)

Serious questions were also raised about Brown’s relationship with famed fixer, Sidney Korshak, who was named by the California Attorney General’s office and others as a major figure with alleged ties to organized crime.  The Los Angeles Times reporter Eric Bailey reported that “Jerry Brown recived ‘massive contributions’ during the 1974 gubernatorial race from friends and associates of Korshak, the book (Supermob) contends.  During his reelection campaign four years later, Brown’s association with Korshak ‘became a major point of criticism and even mockery.'”

“One U. S. Justice Department official described Korshak as a senior adviser to organized crime groups in California, Chicago, Las Vegas and New York.  Korshak denied the charges.”

Even cartoonist Gary Trudeau, a liberal, profiled Brown’s organized crime ties in his Doonesbury cartoons.  The series of comic strips, not carried in the California papers under threat of a law suit, ran outside the view of California readers.  One strip has a Brown press aid saying “Ladies and gentlemen, for your guidance, I’ve prepared the following statement: “Apart from a $1000 contribution, Governor Brown has had no association with reputed gangster Sidney Korshak.”  In the second frame, a reporter says “Excuse me, Duane, in 1974, the Restaurant Employees Union gave Brown over $50,000.  Korshak’s connections with the union are well known.”  Duane replies “Oh” in the third frame.  In the forth frame, Duane asks “You want me to fix that on your copies?” and the reporter replies “No, No, we can remember.”  (For more on the Restaurant Employees Union and Brown, see Brown Facts.)

When, he ran for President in 1976, he needed to win the Maryland presidential primary and sought the support of Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel who was under federal indictment for mail fraud and racketeering charges.  Despite his carefully cultivated non-politician image, Brown may have explained his willingness to obtain the support of indicted Governor Mandel when he said “to win the nomination, I’ve got to win in Maryland.”  (Christian Science Monitor 5/4/76)  (Mandel was convicted, pardoned by the President, and subsequently had courts courts toss the indictment.)

Probably the single most significant legacy of Governor Brown’s legacy is Proposition 13.

When Prop 13 qualified for the November ballot in 1978, the legislature, opposed to Prop 13, countered with another measure which they placed on the ballot with the support of Governor Brown to create a “split roll” which allow homeowners taxes to be cut while property taxes could be increased (an approach that continues to be revisited to this very day).  However, with Governor Brown sitting on $5 billion in extra and unspent or un-refunded state tax income, the voters passed Proposition 13.  Brown opposed Prop 13 but won re-election by his implementation of the initiative.

Governor Brown inherited a $555,000,000 surplus from Governor Reagan at the end of Fiscal Year 1974-75.  Brown allowed the surplus to increase over three fiscal years until it reached $5,300,000,000 or a 954% increase.  The California budget surplus was not only the largest budget surplus of any state in the nation, but California’s surplus of $5.3 billion tops the total of $3.3 billion in surpluses from all other states combined according to a letter from the National Governor’s Association and the National Conference of State Legislators which was sent to Chairman Charles Schultze of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors according to the Sacramento Bee (2-24-78).

The Brown Administration contends that there was no way for them to predict the vast increase in the size of the state surplus.  However, Walter Heller (Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Kennedy and Johnson) recalled that “Several of us economists were invited to Sacramento in the summer of 1975, and we told Brown that there would be revenues running out of his ears by the time the economy went back up the recovery path.  He didn’t believe us, didn’t plan for it and piled up the state budget surpluses.”  (Time, June 26, 1978)

Governor Brown and his Department of Finance, headed by Roy M. Bell, systematically underestimated and intentionally misstated and/or hid the surplus to force the figures to meet the Governor’s needs.

By July 8, 1978, the Los Angeles Times carried a front page article which said that the surplus had risen to $5.8 billion.  It is against this background that Proposition had passed the prior month.

Brown’s record was not that of a tax cutter.  In 1973, Secretary of State Brown opposed Governor Reagan’s tax cutting initiative Proposition 1 as “clearly a campaign gimmick for 1976.”  “Proposition 1 is a hoax, pure and simple.”  “It’s essential we not let him get away with the assertion that it will lower taxes.  That’s just not true.”  Some may believe that if Proposition 1 had passed, that there would not have been a Proposition 13.

In his State of the State speech in January of 1975, he pledges to combat the cruel tax of inflation “by keeping the burden of state taxation at a level no higher than it is today.”

While rejecting indexing state taxes to inflation, Brown repeatedly urged “Legal restraints on local and state spending”, as he did on 12/20/76 in an open letter to California taxpayers and on NBC’s News conference (7/23/77) Brown again said that “we will put a lid on state and local spending which is a feature that Governor Reagan tried to put in and now we are going to be able to do it, although this will not be as tight…”

On 11/75, Brown pledged, “I will not allow a state tax increase until the people march on Sacramento asking to have their taxes raised.”  Despite this pledge and vetoing of a $36 billion increase in alcoholic-beverage taxes, he signed seven tax increases or tax deduction eliminations totaling over $771 million dollars.

On Affirmative Action, the Brown Administration’s unofficial attitude toward Affirmative Action was revealed by Greg Lipscomb, who, in two General Services memorandums state that, “division chiefs are not to pick the best qualified per current rules but will select minorities or women, if possible,, even though he or she may be further down the list,” and, “so long as a minority/woman meets the minimum qualifications, pick them.”  (Sacramento Union 3/7/1976)

Brown enjoyed a special personal and political relationship with anti-Vietnam War activists and socialist cum Democrat Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda  (who were married the year before Brown became governor) and Hayden’s Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED).  Many Brown administration employees were activists in the CED; however, the California State Senate refused to confirm Fonda to the California Arts Commission.  Hayden was quoted in Esquire in May of 1980 as saying Jerry’s “the only person around who can give us power and legitimacy.”

As Governor, Brown may best be remembered as announcing an era of limits with that the small is beautiful motto.  His new liberalism and an eccentric lifestyle earned him the nickname “Governor Moonbeam”.

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    This is the definitive independent site covering Governor Jerry Brown's time in public office and legacy. His appointments and staff, judicial appointments, statements, and policies and their impact on the State of California jobs, the State's economy and its people.
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