10:42 PM PST on Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – Former Riverside County parks chief Pete Dangermond remembers his first interview to become state parks director for then-Gov. Jerry Brown.

It began in the morning. Dangermond didn’t leave the Capitol until close to midnight.

“And they still weren’t through,” Dangermond said recently, noting that Brown sat in on his interview sessions throughout the day. “That work ethic you hear about is certainly true.”

Former Inland Southern California legislators, administration officials and associates from Brown’s first stint as governor recall a workaholic who enthralled and irritated people as he tried to bring a “new spirit” to Sacramento.

The Brown who returns to the Capitol 28 years later, they predicted, is older and wiser. Brown, they say, will have a more measured approach in leading a state that is much different, and more fiscally troubled, than it was during his 1975-1983 tenure as governor.

“He’s going to surprise people,” said Knox Mellon, who was Brown’s director of historic preservation during his entire tenure. Mellon later became executive director of the Mission Inn Foundation in Riverside.

“I think he’s going to view it as a challenge, an opportunity, in many respects, to validate his belief that California is a great state and it still has potential, with the proper kind of guidance,” Mellon said.

Mellon and others said Brown has more life and government experience than the 36-year-old bachelor and former seminarian who arrived in Sacramento after a narrow victory in November 1974. For one thing, Brown, 72, is married.

Francis Carney, the founding faculty member of UC Riverside’s political science department, got to know Brown during the governor’s visits to the Riverside area. Carney said he thinks Brown’s philosophy on governing remains the same.

“Nobody is the same person he was. But he’ll be an activist governor. He’ll look at problems and he may need legislation and try to get it,” Carney said. “On the other hand, he’s too canny, too much an old hand, to have open warfare with the Legislature all the time.”


When Brown took office in 1975, the economy was on shaky ground. Schools were in trouble. Brown, though, inherited a modest surplus from former Gov. Ronald Reagan.

Today, California finances are in awful shape. The state faces an estimated $25.4 billion shortfall over the next 19 months, an amount equal to more than one-half of Brown’s last budget after adjusting for inflation.

Billions in tax increases will soon expire, and many past one-time fixes are no longer available. Deep cuts loom in schools’ constitutional funding guarantee.

During his campaign against Republican Meg Whitman, Brown said he would solve the state’s budget problems without “the smoke and mirrors.” He pledged that any tax increases would go before voters.

Mellon said he’s hopeful about Brown’s chances.

“If he does it right and it works, he could become one of California’s great governors,” he said. “What an opportunity.”

But former Inland lawmaker Dave Kelley, who served in the Legislature when Brown was governor, said Brown’s track record is not cause for optimism.

Brown’s decision to approve collective-bargaining rights for state employees is a major ingredient in today’s problems, the Hemet Republican said.

“He’s coming into a financial situation that’s a lot worse than when he left,” Kelley said. “Now he’s in a position when you can’t take any more from financial cubby-holes.”


Brown has yet to announce any appointees for the hundreds of administration jobs in the state bureaucracy.

In his first two terms, Brown broke ground by hiring large numbers of women and minorities. He named a quadriplegic to lead the Department of Rehabilitation Services and an ally of consumer activist Ralph Nader to run the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Many appointees were relatively new to government service.

“It was the California equivalent of the Kennedy era,” said Carlotta Mellon, who screened job candidates as Brown’s appointments secretary for almost all of his first two terms. Later, she was executive director of the San Bernardino Symphony.

“It was a young team. Jerry was young. I was 28,” said Mellon, the wife of Knox Mellon. “There were people who might not have had the amount of experience you’d find in those positions, but they had a lot of ideas and were very energetic to do the best job possible.”

Mellon said she expects Brown will look for the same traits as he fills out his new administration.

“He will be looking for people committed to public service, who are very bright, creative, visionary, and who can work as a team,” she said. “And I think he will look for a diverse group, both in ideas, and in gender and people of color.”


When Brown took office in 1975, the Democrat-majority Legislature was glad to be finally rid of Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan. The same is true of current legislative Democrats — and some Republicans — about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Yet the Legislature is a much different place than it was when Brown left office in 1983. It is more partisan, and legislative term limits approved in 1990 result in constant turnover among members and staff.

Brown didn’t have particularly cozy relations with fellow lawmakers during his first two terms. Lawmakers overrode Brown’s vetoes of two bills and eight budget line-items, the last veto overrides of any kind in California.

Nevertheless, former San Bernardino lawmaker Terry Goggin, a Democrat, said lawmakers and Brown “worked out all the big issues.”

“The way he worked with the Legislature was a picnic compared to what it is now,” said.

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