Progressives leaving Brown's side in 2010

Legal News Line Mar. 23, 2009, 1:00pm

Jerry Brown (D)

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-- Once the poster-child for California's liberal policies, Attorney General Jerry Brown could have a hard time reaching progressives should he decide to run for governor in 2010.

Through roughly 16 campaigns, including three for president of the United States and two for governor of California, Brown has proven to have more political lives than Wile E. Coyote or Felix the Cat. Yet, who could imagine there would come a day when the original "Governor Moonbeam" would fall out of favor with the liberal left of his Bay Area home.

That day has apparently come, as criticism from the left mounts against the attorney general for his stand-alone approach to defending same-sex marriage, for his continued push to remove California's prison receiver and for his recent statement that if he were governor he would not raise taxes.

Despite the criticism, Brown continues to outperform a cast of likely contenders in the polls.

Brown has not yet made his gubernatorial candidacy official. But with a cast of Democrats waiting to run to replace him, and with Brown raising millions more than would be needed to seek re-election as attorney general, it seems his candidacy for governor is far more a matter of when than if.

When the race starts, it may start in the most unexpected of places. Brown could have to work to shore up his liberal base.

Times change

When Brown burst onto the political scene in the 1970s as the boyish governor with shaggy hair and a rock-star girlfriend, he became the symbol of California's liberal nation-state mentality.

Revered Chicago columnist Mike Royko tagged him with the "Moonbeam" moniker for advocating a space academy in California. But critics seized it as a derogatory label used to encompass his populist positions, trendsetting support for the environment and his long list of quirks.

Brown famously refused the luxuries of his high office. He sold the governor's mansion and rented a one bedroom flat in downtown Sacramento. He rode in a compact car instead of a governor's limo. Even Brown's modernistic governor's portrait drew the wrath of his own father, former Gov. Pat Brown.

Times change. Every other politician claims to be "green" these days. Now, a grandmotherly Linda Ronstadt croons the oldies in a pant suit, and Brown said he is not interested in raising taxes to fix the state's enormous budget problems.

Progressives are taking notice, openly advocating the need for "California's Barack Obama," according to Randy Shaw, political writer and founder of Beyond Chron, a daily online alternative newspaper.

"If there is anyone left on the planet who still thinks Brown is progressive, read Paul Hogarth's recent piece," he wrote Tuesday. "And then talk to tenant advocates in Oakland, prison reform advocates, or anyone actually familiar with his record over the past decade."

In an earlier Beyond Chron article, Hogarth derided Brown for his no new taxes statement, after Brown told the San Francisco Chronicle, "I would not be advocating new taxes, I'll tell you that."

Hogarth was unsparing in his brief attack, writing that Brown's admission the budget situation is "just a plain mess" is "wholly contradictory" with his no-new-taxes pledge.

"Everyone has to share the pain in these tough times, and we should expect those who can afford it to pay more than their fair share," Hogarth wrote - a rather straight-to-the-point summary of the progressive view of taxation.

Attacks on both sides

In recent weeks, Progressives have picked up the mantra so commonly used by conservatives, charging Brown with changing his positions to appeal to voters in the never-ending quest for the next job, next election, next campaign victory.

As conservative commentator Jon Fleischman pointed out in a recent story, Republicans also attacked Brown's no new tax pledge.

"Political chameleon Jerry Brown is at it again," he wrote. "This week he's claiming to be a born-again taxpayer advocate who'll oppose new taxes."

Even Brown's risky political move to refuse to oppose Proposition 8 during the state Supreme Court hearing over the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage drew harsh criticism from the far left, claiming his legal argument which stood alone from the other same-sex marriage attorneys arguing the case, hurt the overall effort rather than strengthened it.

Brown also drew recent criticism from liberal blogger David Dayen for his teaming with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to smear prisoner receiver Clark Kelso and thwart his efforts to improve California's medical care of prisoners. Shaw said Brown's position on the prison system proves his lack of progressive conviction.

"Brown's consistent coddling up to the prison guards union is the smoking gun showing that he is not a candidate for change," Shaw wrote after last year's election.

Despite the seeming shift -- or is it a shove from progressive preferring a new face to that of the 70-year-old Brown - the attorney general remains the best known presumed candidate for governor in statewide polls, and the early leader against all potential Democrats not named Dianne Feinstein, who most political experts believe won't run.

While a shift toward the middle would eventually help any Democratic nominee in the general election, primaries are won with the extremes. Even Schwarzenegger who won during the state's 2003 recall, would not have been the favorite in a Republican primary, according to one recent political article about primary elections.

"California has very liberal Democratic primaries and very conservative Republican primaries," Fleischman said.

Brown isn't in the race yet, despite his very public posturing that he intends to run. When he does jump in, even this seasoned political swimmer might find uncharted waters. The upcoming Democratic primary could actually present a new challenge for the politician who has seen and done it all -- Jerry Brown the moderate, fighting to secure his liberal base.

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