Jerry Brown
Paul Wellman

After hitting the high-end rubber-chicken circuit Sunday night — $10,000 a plate and $1,250 to get in the door — at the Montecito home of Michael and Anne Towbes, Attorney General and putative Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown dusted off his campaign chops in front of a few hundred UCSB students, staff, and faculty members Monday at the first real public appearance in his campaign. Brown, who served as California’s governor from 1975 to 1983 and more recently as Oakland’s mayor, recycled the gospel of environmentalism that he practiced and preached while governor. “We’re talking about urban strategy, solar energy, a bill I signed which gave $50 million in tax credits for the installation of solar collectors,” he said. Brown argued it made good economic sense to foster environmentally sustainable and green technology. “This is a long time ago and that’s where we are now,” he said. Acknowledging the youth of many in the audience, Brown noted, “I started doing some of this stuff before you were born.”

Brown, now 72 and sporting startlingly white eyebrows, is facing no serious opposition for his party’s nomination in the June primary. Consequently, he’s been averse to offering specific plans to fix what ails California, preferring to take potshots at the Republican candidates — mega-billionaire Meg Whitman and multi-billionaire Steve Poizner — now setting stratospheric spending records in a demolition derby of negative television advertisements. Brown, the beneficiary of a Jesuit education, spoke disparagingly of the low intellectual content of their attack ads. “It’s so banal, I don’t even know what to think about it,” he opined. “I think they’re contaminating.” He added that the $100 million the two Republican front-runners have spent could have been better spent. “What would a hundred million do on this campus?” he asked.

He ruminated at length at the comparative costs of higher education and state prisons, noting how in the time the state has built 23 prisons, it’s built no new universities. (In point of fact, the University of California at Merced has opened up.) He described a parasitic relationship between the two institutions, stating, “Students can go out and get loans and [legislators] can keep raising the fees, and that’s an untapped source of raising money to build more prisons.” Seventy percent of people in state prison are back behind bars within three years, he said, adding, “The average education of people in prison is 7th grade and they’re cutting education.”

As California’s top cop, Brown took exception to an initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana use on the November ballot. Brown made fun of a student who asked him about legalizing weed, noting that he was wearing sunglasses while perching his reading glasses on his head. He argued that Californians need more cops on the streets, but that they were needed in “the corporate suites,” as well. He accused Wall Street speculators of ripping off investors to the tune of $11 billion. “You need to rein in greed,” he said. Likewise, he argued the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico underscored the need for strict environmental regulation. Acknowledging that some government regulations are, in fact, “dumb,” he added, “You know what? There are some smart regulations, like the one that stopped oil drilling off the coast.”

He mocked eBay exec Meg Whitman for arguing that government should be run like a corporation. Unlike a corporate CEO, he said, the governor has to govern by bringing disparate interests together, “to cajole, woo, persuade, engage.” To rule by executive fiat, he said, was a non-starter. “If you give an order, you get the finger,” he said. Brown described Poizner and Whitman — now running neck and neck in the polls —  as “apostles of darkness and ignorance” who’ve used their economic might to execute “a hostile takeover of the airwaves.” He sought to rally the students to his cause to fight back. But as he acknowledged in the same breath, “I don’t know how you’re going to fight back. Maybe on Facebook, maybe on the Internet,” he said. “Maybe out in the streets.” >


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