Posted at 04:08 PM on Friday, Aug. 13, 2010
By Jim Boren

Jerry Brown has been a California politician for almost four decades, and it’s still difficult to figure out exactly what he stands for. But now that he wants a do-over as governor, he’d better begin answering that question or Republican Meg Whitman will do it for him using her millions in campaign cash.

Brown, 72, surely won’t like the picture that the likely Republican nominee intends to paint for voters in the general election.

Defenders of the former governor say he has plenty of time to hone his campaign message and he’ll be ready for the fall.

Gubernatorial metamorphosis

The fine art of repackaging candidates for the next election is nothing new in politics. But have you ever seen candidates run from their records as blatantly as Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman have been doing since the June primary?

It’s like they’ve hired stunt doubles for this political makeover. In Brown’s case a younger, less talkative version, and in Whitman’s case, a transformed candidate that many of her supporters don’t recognize. By the time Nov. 2 rolls around, Brown might be the conservative and Whitman the liberal.

This flip-flopping probably will hurt Whitman more than Brown. In more than three decades in public office, Brown has been all over the political map. His supporters are used to his flimflammery.

Both Republican candidates in California’s GOP primary for governor have subjected voters to a multimillion-dollar barrage of negative advertisements. That makes it especially difficult to sort out the candidate who would best serve the Golden State as the party nominee in the November election.

We add our voice to those frustrated with the campaigns of former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. But that frustration must not get in the way of assessing the qualifications of the candidate who should face Democrat Jerry Brown in the fall campaign.

Poizner’s tenure as insurance commissioner has shown that he is an even-handed administrator who can fairly represent the interests of California consumers and give insurance companies an opportunity to make a reasonable profit. Whitman, who has valuable experience as a successful CEO, has been disappointing in her unwillingness to campaign outside of tightly controlled appearances.

Brown stands on headlines for notice

The show “Law and Order” built a decades-long television dynasty by offering fictional crime sagas that closely mirrored real-life cases that were “ripped from the headlines,” as the show’s promos put it.

Jerry Brown has used the same approach, garnering attention by interjecting himself into the news of the moment during a political career that has lasted longer than the TV show.

When Brown was a young secretary of state prepping to run for governor in 1974, for instance, he eagerly latched onto the Watergate scandal, using the thinnest of pretexts — his office’s oversight of notaries public — to launch an investigation into the authenticity of Watergate-related documents. He also championed a 1974 ballot measure, Proposition 9, to impose more regulation on lobbyists and campaign activities.

Other cities to pay lavish Bell, Calif., pensions

Cities across Southern California will be on the hook for the pensions paid to municipal officials in Bell, where excessive salaries led to a recent purge of city leaders, according to pension experts.

The Los Angeles Times reports that more than half of former city manager Robert Rizzo’s $600,000-a-year pension will be paid by taxpayers in 140 small cities and special districts that are in the same pension liability pool. This includes Glendale, Simi Valley, Ventura, Norco, La Canada Flintridge and Goleta, as well as Rizzo’s former employers, Hesperia and Rancho Cucamonga.

In the case of Bell’s former police chief, Randy Adams, the city is only responsible for 3 percent of his estimated $411,300-a-year pension under CalPERS, the state’s public employee retirement plan. Taxpayers in Glendale, Simi Valley and Ventura would have to pick up the rest.

What a gift the city of Bell pay scandal has been for Democrat Jerry Brown. Instead of actually buying campaign advertisements for his gubernatorial race, the attorney general can investigate the excessive salaries in that tiny city and tell California voters it’s outrageous what public officials were being paid.

It’s doubtful that Brown could find a Californian who didn’t already know that, but it sure beats spending his campaign cash. Let Republican opponent Meg Whitman unload her political warchest attacking his motives in the Bell investigation. Brown is doing the people’s work in Bell. He’s even set up a hotline so tipsters can call in complaints about Bell’s operations.

It sure beats having to come up with a workable plan to close the $19 billion budget gap. A sensible proposal can only lose votes because it will entail pain for Californians given the size of the deficit. That makes political handlers nervous. But Brown is all over the Bell scandal.

That might even be a good strategy if he’s elected governor. “Don’t bother me with the state budget mess, I have to be in Bell this afternoon holding hearings on the salaries of mid-level managers who also might be ripping off the public.”

As attorney general, Brown has a political advantage because he can run for governor just by performing his AG duties. Some might argue that the Bell investigation is overkill, but it loosely falls into the definition of the job.

Even Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley has a Bell investigation going. It’s only coincidental that he’s running for attorney general.

Whitman realizes that the Bell scandal could help Brown in the governor’s race and has been on the attack ever since he began showing an interest in this tiny Los Angeles County community. Her latest counter-punch to Brown’s Bell investigation is to look at the salaries paid in Oakland during his tenure.

“When he was mayor of Oakland, he stonewalled reporters who were trying to get to the bottom of the city’s wasteful spending,” said Andrea Jones Rivera, a Whitman spokesperson. “Jerry’s hand-picked city manager cashed in $183,000 of vacation and sick pay and gave herself $60,000 of bonuses on top of her six-figure salary. Jerry’s confidante and personal guru, Jacques Barzaghi, was on the city’s payroll for $126,000 a year at a make-work job that eventually cost the city another $50,000 in a sexual harassment settlement.”

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