Editorial: Brown should not sail through Democratic primary

Chris Rizo Nov. 30, 2009, 12:03am

Jerry Brown (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-California's Democratic Party would be wise to seek additional candidates to run for governor besides just Attorney General Jerry Brown, an editorial said Sunday.

Brown, a fixture in Golden State politics for decades, being the only name on next year's Democratic primary would hurt the party in the long run, wrote Stuart Leavenworth, editorial page editor at the Sacramento Bee.

"Brown has so much campaign cash and name recognition that no one is likely to challenge him," Leavenworth wrote. "He'll go untested in the primary, and the state - as well as Brown and the party he represents - will be worse off because of it. It won't be until after June that he'll face hard questions on the campaign trail, such as how he'd handle the state's fiscal catastrophe and other pressing matters."

Brown, 71, has not officially entered the 2010 gubernatorial race. He has, however, formed an exploratory committee, allowing him to collect up to $25,900 in campaign cash from individual donors. Before the exploratory committee was formed, contributors to Brown's AG campaign account were limited to $6,500 per person per election cycle.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had been the only declared Democrat in the race to succeed Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is barred by term-limits from seeking reelection. Newsom abandoned his campaign late last month amid lackluster poll numbers and poor fundraising.

"It would be so much better for the state, and Jerry Brown himself, if he faced some real competition in the primary," Leavenworth said. "The party has some viable alternatives," he added, naming state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a former state attorney general; Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta and U.S. Rep. Jane Harman of Venice, as other possible candidates.

"One of them needs to give Jerry a run for his money," Leavenworth said.

In his column, he also bemoaned the way the state Democratic Party chooses its candidates.

"Given the name of their party, you'd think Democrats would be more inclusive in selecting candidates. Instead, party leaders like to huddle in back rooms to pick winners," he said. "A local example is when Doris Matsui waltzed into the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005 to fill the Sacramento seat of her late husband, Robert Matsui."

Since winning election, Doris Matsui has proven herself, Leavenworth said. But added that she would be a more formidable candidate to Republican challenge were she tested in her first primary against a field of fellow Democrats.

In California, registered Democrats far outnumber registered Republicans. The Golden State's primaries are closed, meaning that
registered party members can only cast ballots for candidates in their party.

Since 1958, California's Democratic governors have been Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, his son Jerry Brown and Brown's former chief of staff, Gray Davis, who was recalled from office in 2003.

"Aware that he may be perceived as just more of the same, Brown has been attempting a makeover. He's casting himself as a law-and-order prosecutor, a former Oakland mayor who gave hope to a troubled city," Leavenworth said. "Trying to win over voters with 'Schwarzenegger fatigue,' he is offering himself as an older, smarter, more experienced executive who isn't tainted by recent legislative failures."

Leavenworth said although Brown wants to be perceived as a maverick Democrat, he is very cozy with public employee unions, for example.

"That's why it's troubling that he won't be pressed, until too late, on how he will reconcile that support with the need to bring spending and pension costs into line with revenues," he wrote.

Brown held the governor's office before the state's term limits law was enacted, thus allowing him to run again. He was the mayor of Oakland, Calif., from 1998 to 2006, before being elected as the state's chief legal officer in 2007.

Brown unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nominations for U.S. president in 1976, 1980, and 1992.

On the Republican side running for governor next year is former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a former state finance director.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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