By Stuart Leavenworth, Editorial page editor
sleavenworth@sacbee.com
Published: Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009 – 12:00 am | Page 6E

If California’s Democratic Party had a motto right now, it would probably be, “No drama.”

The party doesn’t like surprises. It doesn’t tolerate family fights. Its preference is to anoint candidates who can breeze through the primary carrying lots of money into the runoff.

That’s one big reason the Democratic Party is so … boring.

Any week now, Jerry Brown will officially announce his candidacy for governor. At that point, the Democratic race will be over. Brown has so much campaign cash and name recognition that no one is likely to challenge him.

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.

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. 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.

Don’t get me wrong. After four years, Matsui has proven herself to be a worthy representative. But she’d be a far stronger one by now if she’d faced real competition in her first bid for office.

Although Democrats like to anoint their candidates, they sometimes get egg on their face when they start the coronation ceremony too early.

In 2008, the party elders – including those here in California – had decided Hillary Clinton would be their presidential nominee. That was before a young upstart, Barack Obama, tapped into a deep vein of discontent among Democrats.

These discontents included young people, poor people and Democrats of various stripes who felt uninspired by the party’s leadership. Some also had misgivings about continuing the Clinton dynasty in the White House.

Although Obama didn’t win the California primary, he created a new coalition within the Democratic Party, both here and nationwide. This coalition appealed to independents and even some moderate Republicans, who helped propel him into the presidency.

If California’s Democratic Party and its benefactors have learned anything from Obama’s victory, they have yet to show it. Brown was given the green light even before San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom flamed out of the race. Now the 71-year-old attorney general is rolling in campaign cash from labor unions, real estate developers and Hollywood moguls.

If Brown returns to the governor’s office, a new chapter will be written in the family dynasty. As numerous commentators have noted, the Browns have dominated the governor’s office for Democrats in the last half century. Since 1958, the only Democratic governors have been Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, his son Jerry Brown and Brown’s former chief of staff, Gray Davis.

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. 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.

Yet though he wants to be perceived as a maverick, Brown is nothing if not an insider. He’s been a consistent friend to public employee unions and other groups that have a big stake in California’s general fund spending. 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.

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