SACRAMENTO -- Incoming California Attorney General Jerry Brown will most likely, it seems, be Jerry Brown. And that's likely to be bad news for California business.
Brown was recently elected the state's chief law enforcer as a Democrat after serving two four-year terms as mayor of Bay-area Oakland. More than 20 years ago he served two terms as governor of California and also launched three separate bids for the U.S presidency in the '70s and '80s.
Outgoing Attorney General Bill Lockyer was notorious amongst California business for launching lawsuits against unpopular industry groups like automakers and individually-unpopular companies like Hewlett-Packard to advance political positions like global warming and corruption-fighting. But businesses shouldn't necessarily expect a respite from the iconic Brown, according to observers.
"Corporate California should be extremely nervous" about Brown as attorney general, said Bill Whelan, research associate at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and an expert in California politics.
"Jerry Brown has never liked or trusted California business and it's always been his favorite whipping boy," Whelan said.
Based on his track record, Whelan added, Brown will likely attempt to "cure societal injustices by going after corporate California."
That said, Brown's recent record as Oakland mayor indicates that he will be more likely to pursue a law-enforcement rather corporate-punishment agenda as state attorney-general. Brown built credentials for his recent AG run by cracking down on Oakland's out-of-control violent crime rate during his eight years as mayor and recently announced that he had hired a prominent Oakland police lieutenant to serve with him at the AG's office.
But California business is still very wary of a Jerry Brown regime as state attorney general. The California Chamber of Commerce did not comment on Brown's recent election but anonymous business sources told LegalNewsLine they feared the worst from him.
Whelan says Brown burnished his law enforcement credentials in crime-ridden Oakland because he believed a hard line against violent crime was the best way to save lives in Oakland. But he adds that as California AG, Brown is likely to pursue a very different agenda.
Whelan agrees that state business interests would do well to fear a Jerry Brown-run attorney-general's office. He says there are two kinds of state attorneys-general -- those who focus on blue collar crime and those who focus on white collar crime. Brown is definitely one of the latter, says Whelan.
Whelan also says one of the keys for business in its relationship with Brown will be how well he gets along with moderate Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He notes that their prospective relationship remains "up in the air" at present but also points out that Democratic attorneys-general in California have a history of playing politics with governors from the opposite side.
Nonetheless, Whelan says there are signs that Brown may have changed his focus over the years and may even be preparing for another run at the governor's mansion. He recently hung in his new office a large portrait of his father Pat, who made his name as a law-and-order attorney general in California before being elected governor in 1959.
And like many observers of California politics, Whelan believes Brown could well be using his AG election to position himself for another run at the governor's mansion. He says that apart from recent incumbent Bill Lockyer, who recently moved from attorney general to treasurer, the AG's office has been the traditional springboard to California Governor.
"Brown has a high opinion of himself," Whelan said. "Why wouldn't he run for governor."