Dan Walters

Dan Walters
Observations on California and its politics
04/05/2015 – 8:11 AM

Responses to crises often define political executives – presidents, governors and big-city mayors – for posterity.

Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression and World War II. John Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis. George W. Bush and 9/11. History books are full of such crises.

Among recent California governors, Pete Wilson was easily the most crisis-challenged, dealing with floods, wildfires, a race riot and a severe recession, to mention just a few. Wilson faced each stoically, and his gritty crisis management helped him win a landslide re-election in 1994.

Conversely, Wilson’s successor, Gray Davis, stumbled badly in handling an electric utility meltdown (caused by legislation that Wilson had signed, ironically) and a budget crisis. Just a year after winning a very narrow re-election in 2002, Davis was recalled.

Jerry Brown knows very well how crisis can impact a politician’s indelible image.

His father, Pat Brown, was on vacation in Greece when a horrific race riot erupted in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1965.

Neither communications nor intercontinental transportation was instantaneous then, so the burden of command fell on the elder Brown’s lieutenant governor, Glenn Anderson, who called out the National Guard.

A Brown-appointed commission later criticized Anderson for a slow response, but Brown did not emerge unscathed and he lost his bid for a third term in 1966.

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