California’s Political Geezers Strike a Blow for the Geriatric Set

Nancy Pelosi, Grandma of the House, Reclaims the Speakership

Senator Dianne Feinstein landed in Santa Barbara on Sunday to talk with Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County about Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination and other topics.
Erika Carlos

Jerry Brown, once the political avatar of youth and new ideas, left the governor’s office this week with an intriguing commentary on the most important quality of elected leaders: experience.

“I think experience, making mistakes, going through it all ​— ​I think that’s very helpful and kind of undercuts the idea that it’s time for a change, or that we need a young person in there,” he said in an interview with the political website Calbuzz. “You need a young spirit, but you also need an old hand to get through the difficulties that you face.”

The 80-year-old Brown, not only the oldest governor ever but also the youngest since the 19th century, came to office back in the disco era with a young man’s contempt for geezers in government. Today, he says he failed back then to appreciate and honor elder wisdom.

“You need innovation and you need freshness, but I just think being able to size up the problems, the people ​— ​you can’t learn that in a couple of years. Certainly, as a young person, I did not know as much,” he said. “Now I’m the oldest and most experienced, and that’s where authority can do the job more effectively. Those are just artifacts of time.”

Brown pointed to Joe Biden, the 76-year-old former vice president and possible 2020 presidential candidate, as a good example of his wizened theory.

“You gotta know stuff,” he said. “I mean, how you gonna deal with the Russians positively, as well as on issues where we’re in dispute? How you gonna deal with the Middle East, China, and world trade? I can tell you from my vantage point … this stuff is really complicated, more complicated than it was 30 years ago. Therefore, you do need older people.”

As for advice to new Governor Gavin Newsom, Brown said it’s simple: “I would say the biggest issue is avoid big screwups.”

Senatorial, Um, Courtesy: Senator Dianne Feinstein, another member of the octogenarian brigade, told Washington reporters she also likes Biden for president because the former veep would bring a “level of experience and seniority” to the White House.

Not great news to Senator Kamala Harris, Feinstein’s California colleague, who’s also likely to run, after two years in her current job. Harris, sniffed DiFi, “is brand-new here.” Ouch.

Grandma of the House: Nancy Pelosi, another in California’s all-star lineup of elders, historically reclaimed the Speakership of the House a few days ago at the age of 78, amid a wave of media paeans to her prodigious political skills.

It called to mind a small but telling incident illustrating her old-pol street smarts and sensibility.

In 1987, days after winning her first race for Congress, Pelosi was driving to a thank-you luncheon for supporters, accompanied by a reporter interviewing her for a post-election column.

Passionately making a point with her characteristic wide-open eye contact, she made a wrong turn and suddenly was heading the wrong way on a busy avenue on San Francisco’s Westside.

Realizing her mistake, the future Speaker lurched back to the right side of the road, by which point the newshound was whimpering, curled in the fetal position in the passenger seat.

His column appeared a few days later, with a throwaway item about cheating death with Pelosi at the wheel and a kicker offering tongue-in-cheek advice, suggesting that her “first official act should be to hire a driver.” Incensed at being portrayed as unable to navigate her district, Pelosi phoned up to chew him out for taking a cheap shot.

Fast-forward 20 years: A few months after becoming the first woman Speaker, Pelosi came to Santa Barbara for a fundraiser at the home of the late Betty Stephens.

When the reporter offered a long-lost greeting at the event, Madame Speaker, with a triumphant smile and not a second’s hesitation, delivered a payback line two decades in the making:

“You know, Jerry,” she said. “I have a driver now.”


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