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09.15.10

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Time and Time Again

Is experience Jerry Brown's sole leverage?

By Anna Schuessler


The fluorescent lights in Santa Rosa's Veterans Memorial Hall turned blue shirts to purple, saturating colors and soaking up the exhaustion of the day as Sonoma County Democrats gathered on the night of Aug. 25 to rally support for Jerry Brown, California's Democratic candidate for governor. Despite the lingering 90-plus temperature, faithful blue-blooded folks trooped past Meg Whitman supporters, silently hoisting Meg Whitman lawn signs with limp arms, on their way into the auditorium.

Impatient attendees were provided with water bottles, and a single, gigantic fan was placed in the back of the room. And then they waited, a local Democratic representative stalling for time as Brown traveled to the event. "We'll let you know when Jerry is leaving so you can start a chant when he walks in," the rep said, his voice settling slowly on the crowd, eliciting weak applause.

Why shouldn't Jerry Brown stall for a little more time, anyway? He's had plenty of time to ruminate over the myriad problems the state of California has endured, and he certainly has taken his time in officially launching his campaign. In an attempt to cater to the older North Bay citizens who had gathered to see their candidate, the former governor used this hot August evening to explicate his extended career in politics as well as his devotion to more traditional ways of running a campaign. But most likely, he also wanted to hedge against Meg Whitman's copiously funded campaign.

When he finally appeared, 45 minutes after the meeting was slated to start, the man who has spent almost 40 years navigating California politics made sure his audience was aware of his time—and his impeccable timing. "This campaign starts with your feet on the rocks, and when the time is right, we'll let go," he said, comparing his decision to begin his campaign after Labor Day to that of a child swinging from a tire swing over the Russian River.

Speaking from a podium that consumed most of his tiny frame, Brown jabbed a finger in the air with every point he delivered. The speech was scattered, Brown jumping from his progressive achievement of appointing minority candidates to positions in his previous term as governor to his energy plans for 2020 in a less-than-cogent manner. But his tone was upbeat, if his message a little outdated.

Putting California's dire straits into perspective, Brown turned the attention of his listeners to the prosperity they currently enjoy. Singing the praises of California's $1.8 trillion gross state product, Brown said that the state's deficit was simply going to entail a "California solution," one that requires the help of all the parties combined. "We've had bigger problems in the past," he said, mentioning the ban against Chinese immigrants owning property during the Gold Rush, as well as the state's role in the Civil Rights movement as examples.

Reaching deeply into history is one of the only ways that Brown stands a chance against Meg Whitman. He succeeded in working his achievements—as well as the downfalls of policy made in his absence—into his rally speech. Making mention of the "elegant density" that Brown's integrated arts school fostered in Oakland as opposed to the creation of 22 prisons since he left office as governor, Brown attempted to refute any arguments against his years of experience. He also steered clear of taking an aggressive offensive to Whitman's campaign, alluding to his competitor only when suggesting that perhaps her supporters outside the Veterans Hall were paid.

While Brown's small-scale campaigning will in no way rival that of Whitman's multimillion dollar onslaught, sticking to party politics and keeping it low-key might just work for him. The Democrats who had come to see Brown that sultry evening were not electrified by his diction, but their resistance against Whitman's well-padded coffer was palpable. Indeed, the only time Brown's speech aroused more than applause and a few whistles was when he took a stab at her supporters. If keeping a low profile in the face of Whitman's determination is what it takes for Brown to garner the support of his fellow Democrats, then that's what Brown will do.


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