None of the campaigns were at the right time. That’s the problem. Poor Jerry Brown has been the victim of terrible timing.
In 1976, Brown had only been Governor of California for one year and was just 38 years old. In reality, it was way too early for him to make a step toward the Presidency. Oddly enough, it was also the closest that he ever got to winning the Democratic Presidential nomination. Brown had name recognition because he was making headlines in California, was a fresh face who appeared to be at the forefront of the next generation of American politicians, and was the son of a former California Governor. He made a good showing in some of the Democratic primaries in 1976, but he entered the race too late. Jimmy Carter had too much of a head start and Brown simply couldn’t catch him. Despite all of that, 1976 was probably his best shot.
The 1980 bid was rough because he was challenging an incumbent President for his own party’s nomination. Governor Brown wasn’t the only Democrat challenging President Carter in 1980 and he wasn’t the most exciting or buzzworthy with the media — that was Senator Edward Kennedy. Brown also faced backlash back home in California because it was the second time he sought the Presidency since being elected Governor. Californians wanted him at work in Sacramento rather than hitting the trail in Iowa and New Hampshire. Even if he had overcome Carter for the 1980 Democratic nomination (not an easy task despite Carter’s unpopularity since Kennedy couldn’t beat him, either), Brown would have most likely been trounced in the general election by the man who preceded him as Governor of California — Ronald Reagan.
Jerry Brown’s 1992 campaign for the Democratic nomination was a very interesting one, largely because of the genuine animosity between Brown and the eventual nominee (and President) Bill Clinton. There was a nasty confrontation in one of the Democratic debates where it looked for a moment like Clinton might actually punch Brown. Because of his low-budget fundraising, Brown shouldn’t have done as well as he did in 1992, but he started picking up some momentum in the later primaries. Unfortunately for Brown, he needed some of the earlier primaries to keep Clinton from clinching the nomination from the convention in order to force a brokered convention. The dislike between Clinton and Brown was apparent at the Democratic National Convention when Brown refused to endorse Clinton during Brown’s speech.
Of the three bids that Jerry Brown made — 1976, 1980, and 1992 — it was the first attempt in 1976 that was probably the closest Brown came to winning the Democratic nomination. The best chance that Brown might have had to become President was actually in a year that he didn’t run — 1988. The field was wide-open for Democrats and Republicans because the election of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush was no sure thing. As I said, however, Brown’s timing when it came to seeking the Presidency has been rather unfortunate.
That hasn’t changed, by the way. Right now, Jerry Brown looks like he will easily be re-elected as Governor of California in 2014. From what I have read (granted, I haven’t lived in California since 2010), Brown has been doing a better-than-expected job and his popularity is high. Because of the size of the state, its worth in the Electoral College, and the nature of the job, California’s Governors are always potential Presidential contenders. Unfortunately for Governor Brown, the man who was once the youngest Governor in California’s history is now the oldest Governor in California’s history and he’ll be 78 years old in 2016 — way too old to be a serious contender for the Presidency. If he were 15 years younger, Brown would be a frontrunner in 2016
That’s tough to say because it’s hard to rank the Governors of states that you don’t live in. I’ll just go with my personal experience from living in California under several Governors because there is no way that Rick Perry, Governor of Texas while I lived there for a year, would ever make it on any list of mine. And, while I live in Missouri now and it seems like Governor Jay Nixon is a solid executive, I still don’t know a whole lot about him.
From my experience in California, I have a soft spot for Governor Gray Davis, whose recall in 2003 was a complete travesty. Time will vindicate Governor Davis — in fact, I think it has already started to, especially now that we know what we know about Enron and the electricity crisis which was a big factor in Governor Davis’s downfall. Governor Davis was a hard-working, smart, effective public servant from his service in Vietnam to his devotion to California as Governor Brown’s chief of staff, State Assemblyman, State Controller, Lieutenant Governor, and then Governor. With the trajectory he was on up until his Gubernatorial re-election in 2002, Davis was heading to national prominence. Because he wasn’t very charismatic or an inspiring public speaker, I don’t think he the Presidency was a realistic goal, but he certainly could have been Vice President and probably would have been on John Kerry’s short list in 2004.
But Governor Davis got a raw deal from Californians. He became the scapegoat for problems that weren’t entirely his fault and he was the victim of a smear campaign that he couldn’t combat while trying to do his job and that he couldn’t outspend. Plus, he had just won re-election just a few months before the recall campaign got going. Gray Davis won re-election in November 2002 and his opponents decided that they wanted a do-over. And then, in the midst of the circus-like atmosphere of the recall campaign, Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped into the spotlight and the voters of California got starry-eyed. It was a shitty deal and Governor Davis deserved better from California. Yet, he accepted the results of the recall with humility and never said a cross word about it or the voters or his opponents. And he was incredibly helpful to Governor Schwarzenegger, both during the transition and after Schwarzenegger was inaugurated.
Gray Davis was the first politician who inspired me to get involved in a campaign and go to work for a candidate. In 1998, I was only 18, but Davis — the Lieutenant Governor at the time — seemed like the perfect candidate for Governor. He had paid his dues and undoubtedly had the best resume of any Gubernatorial candidate on the scene. I went to a rally downtown near the State Capitol (where the legendary, beloved, and late Mayor of Sacramento Joe Serna stepped on my shoe and then talked to me for ten minutes about public service) and everything that Gray Davis said gave me confidence in him and his vision for California. When I briefly met Gray Davis that day, I felt like he blocked everyone else out and focused on me for the two minutes that I had his attention. As an 18-year-old, that was huge. Later, of course, I realized that all great politicians are able to do that. But I was sold. And I still am. I went to work for Gray Davis’s campaign in 1998 and on Election night, for the first time, I felt that amazing feeling of having your candidate win and it was a validation of all of the work we had done. It was the moment where I got bit by the bug of working on high-stakes political campaigns. Fifteen years later, when I see a candidate that piques my interest, I still get that itch to sign up, start training volunteers, canvass neighborhoods, register voters, and phone bank (okay…maybe not phone banking…I hate that). I’ll never forget that it was Governor Davis that instilled that feeling in me.
I was too young to experience Jerry Brown’s first time as Governor of California (1975-1983), but I knew his reputation and was always fascinated by him. I saw Governor Brown speak a few times when he was Mayor of Oakland and I met him when he was California’s Attorney General and always hoped that he would make another run for Governor. Of course, once he did (in 2010), I had moved out of California.
However, since his election, I have followed him from outside of the state and think that he’s done an amazing job as Governor. From what I’ve seen, he is actually getting California moving in the right direction when it’s seemed for so long like the state was broken and might be too big and too broke and too much to fix. Apparently (and this is from what I understand from what I read and hear out here in Missouri), Governor Brown has done such a remarkable job that some of the younger Democrats and potential Republicans who considered taking him on in 2014 (when Governor Brown will be 76) aren’t even going to risk it. One friend I have back in Sacramento who is a political consultant said that, if Governor Brown were 10 or 15 years younger, he’d be a viable Presidential candidate in 2016 (Brown made unsuccessful bids for the Presidency in 1976, 1980, and 1992). So, I’m going to go ahead and count Jerry Brown as one of my favorite Governors, too.
Oh, and I had no experience living under him or in his state, but I always thought Jesse “The Body” Ventura’s shocking election as Governor of Minnesota in 1998 was awesome. I loved his unorthodox campaign ads and the fact that he was a professional wrestler and the party he had after his inauguration where he wore a pink boa and some of the funky clothes he used to wear. I liked the fact that he was an independent and that he named his autobiography I Ain’t Got Time To Bleed (BOOK•KINDLE) after his famous line in Predator. I enjoyed his candor and thought it was refreshing, and it was fun to see the incumbent Governor of Minnesota not only be the special referee at SummerSlam but throw Shane McMahon out of the ring and yell, “That’s for your old man, you little bastard!”. That’s not something you’d ever see his successor, Tim Pawlenty, or Iowa’s long-serving Governor Terry Branstad do.
So, from afar, I thought Governor Ventura was pretty cool. Then he left office and became a complete nutjob. I mean, he may have always been one, but when he was Jesse “The Body”, he was fun. Former Governor Ventura, however, is totally unbearable to watch or listen to. Of course, everything is a conspiracy to him, so he’ll probably find this post and accuse me of being part of the Illuminati. It’s easy for me to say that Governor Ventura was fun to watch from a couple of thousand miles away, but I’m sure the novelty wore off pretty quickly for the people of Minnesota. And I’m sure people said the same thing about Governor Schwarzenegger.
We’ll stick with Gray Davis and Jerry Brown as my favorites and, from what I’ve seen of him, I like Governor Nixon here in Missouri.
(By the way, Missourians, Gov. Nixon is term-limited, so the Governor’s Mansion is wide-open in 2016. Anthony for Governor? Who wants to donate?)