By James M. Perry
"Governor Moonbeam," says Jerry Brown, "I earned it with a lot of hard work."
Nobody's laughing now. Governor Brown, at the age of 75, is the most successful politician in the United States.
When he took office in January of 2011, California "was staggered by double-digit unemployment, a $26 billion deficit and an accumulated 'wall of debt' topping $35 billion," according to Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson.
"But in astonishingly short order, America's shrewdest elder statesman blazed a best-worst way out of California's economic morass. With a stiff cocktail of budget cuts and hard-won new taxes, Brown has not only zeroed out the deficit, he's also begun paying down the debt."
It helps that the Republican Party in California has virtually disappeared. (Democrats hold super-majorities in both chambers of the state legislature). "They used to roam the freeways and cul-de-sacs, in great, thundering herds," says Chris Thompson, another Rolling Stone writer. "Now, they cling to a few isolated enclaves along the beaches of San Diego, farmlands of the Central Valley, and retirement communities near the Oregon border. And they are old and white in a state that's increasingly young and brown."
It is, Democrats in California like to think, the wave of the future. Maybe not everywhere, but in enough states to give Democrats the edge in national elections for years to come.
Jerry Brown -- he was given the "moonbeam" appellation by Linda Ronstadt, an old girl friend -- was a little flaky those three times he ran for president, but he's a lot more serious now. "I want to get shit done," he says, proving that he hasn't become just your everyday buttoned-down politician.
His father, Pat (below right), was a progressive governor before him, and for years, some say, he lived in his father's shadow, much as young Bush did with his father. But those days are long past. It helps, too, that he's married to Ann Gust, former chief administrative officer of The Gap. She's the governor's closest advisor, replacing a true moonbeam, the tattooed, all in black Jacques Barzaghi, a consultant in feng shui home decorating who at one time lived in a rain forest and then shared Brown's warehouse apartment in Oakland with his sixth wife.
Brown's opponents make the mistake of tagging him as your standard liberal. He's not. He's always been a fiscal conservative, and voters may have sensed that when they voted in favor of his Proposition 30, which increased the sales tax and jacked up taxes for the wealthy. It brings in $6 billion a year. Voters tend to trust the governor.
Besides that, he's much too unpredictable to be tagged anything. Liberals were disappointed and perplexed when he recently vetoed a bill that would have outlawed assault weapons, semi-automatic guns than can kill dozens. He's also opposed to legalizing pot, though he may be coming around on that.
Will he seek re-election? Linda Ronstadt didn't call him "moonbeam" for nothing. He is unpredictable. But, if he's in good health, of course he'll run again. That's what he does, and he's never done it better.
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.