The casual governorship of Jerry Brown

The lack of any entourage, the Southwest commuter flights - this is not for show, it's just the way Brown operates, as captured in a NYT profile by Adam Nagourney for this Sunday's magazine.

He is more apt to impulsively pick up the phone to call a lower-level commissioner than agree to a scheduled briefing with a department head. "He is not someone into structure," [says his wife, Anne Gust Brown]. "Not at all." Decisions about where and when to go tend to be so last-minute that the police guards who accompany him make backup reservations on later flights for the governor on Southwest. Routine newspaper requests for his appointment calendars are exercises in futility; Brown does not live by a calendar. When it came time to propose major policy positions in the campaign, "it would be me and Jerry sitting at the computer," Anne said. "And he would call a bunch of guys, and I'd be sitting there saying: 'Education. What is your policy on education?' We'd work out a framework together, and he called a lot of experts. He knows a lot of people."

Brown was late for a meeting with me because a 10-minute sit-down with a candidate for energy commissioner stretched to one hour, and after that he insisted on stopping to personally edit a one-paragraph press release on the budget. Three times. The governor inspects the most routine "here be it resolved" gubernatorial proclamations and letters before signing them. He was 45 minutes late to an annual dinner of Assembly Democrats at the Stanford Mansion in Sacramento over the winter, provoking a glimmer of impatience from the Assembly speaker, John A. Pérez, who is known for demanding punctuality from his members. "You know, I normally close the doors when the meeting is scheduled to begin," Pérez said, as he waited outside for Brown to appear. When the governor arrived, he explained the delay by saying he had been "making appointments."


For this governor, no task seems beneath him, be it adjusting the thermo­stat in a meeting room or handling scheduling requests for his wife. Brown walked out of a meeting with business leaders one afternoon, cellphone to one ear, and said to me, "Do you want to talk to Anne by the way?" I nodded yes. "He says yeah. Why don't you come on by?" When Brown brought Warren Beatty along to a lunch speech in late February in Oakland, the governor became Beatty's handler, speeding the actor through the crowd of autograph and photo seekers. "Come on, we want to keep moving!" he said, looking over his shoulder at Beatty. This stripped-down style has set a tone that seems right for these times. Small cuts, like reducing the number of cellphones and state cars, could easily have been lampooned as gimmickry but instead have resonated well on both sides of the aisle.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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