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Bill Kennedy: Old shoes and old pols

Right Here, Right Now

Posted: September 24, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: September 24, 2010 4:55 a.m.

"Wow," my wife, Cathy, exclaimed, "These shoes that you use to wash the car look brand new."

She was admiring the product of my semiannual ritual of triaging the shoes in my closet, whereby I separate the keepers from the obvious losers and work to recover those that fall in between.

The object of her admiration was a pair of comfortable old Topsiders in the latter category, that I managed to revitalize with a generous share of leather balm and elbow grease.

As I reflected on my handiwork, I could not help but draw parallels between old shoes and old politicians - some improve with age, some need work to remain in useful service and some are ready for retirement.

Gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown falls in the latter category. Since 1969, he has been a lifetime politician serving in multiple elected offices: Los Angeles County College Board of Trustees (1969-71), California Secretary of State (1971-75), two-term governor (1975-83), chair of the California Democratic Party (1989-1991), mayor of Oakland (1998-2006) and state Attorney General (2007-present).

Although such diverse public service might qualify an individual to be an effective elected official in high office, Brown has three major defects that make us wary. First, he has earned the reputation of being an unaccountable flip-flopper.

"Like a particle in high energy physics, he always seems to transform himself before he can be identified," wrote Roger Rapoport, a chronicler of Brown's previous term as governor. ("California Dreaming: The Political Odyessy of Pat and Jerry Brown," Nolo Press, 1982)

Writer J. Douglas Allen-Taylor suggested Rapoport's assessment represents a "mirror image of his more recent tenure as mayor of Oakland and as attorney general." (The Berkeley Daily Planet, Jan. 28, 2010)

A second reason to be wary of Brown is found in his efforts to protect from public scrutiny the actions he took during his two terms as governor and as mayor of Oakland. In 1988, Brown convinced the Legislature to modify the California Public Records Act and allow any governor who held office between 1974 and 1988 to shroud their actions behind a veil of secrecy - an exception that benefits mostly him.

He used a different tactic to cover his tracks as mayor of Oakland. According to the Contra Costa Times, virtually "eight years of records from the Jerry Brown years at Oakland City Hall simply vanished from public view" when he left office in 2007. (Steven Harmon, Jan 21).

Brown's efforts of concealment beg the question of why a lifetime politician would I want to deny free public access to the methods by which he governed. California needs clarity, stability and transparency from our governor, not crafty evasion of responsibility for official actions.

The third and greatest flaw in Brown's qualifications to be our governor is that he does not possess the skill sets California needs now. The state is in an economic crisis with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and a budget mired in deficits that an ineffective Legislature seems unable to resolve. We need increased jobs, reduced spending and team-building leadership.

On jobs, after eight years as governor Brown left office in January 1983 with record unemployment: 1.3 million Californians were out of work with an unemployment rate of nearly 11 percent - a level only surpassed by today's economic crisis, more than a quarter century later.

Brown's real spending (adjusted for inflation and population growth) increased during his term as governor by 12.3 percent, the second-highest rate in the past 30 years, eclipsed only by George Deukmejian's record spending increase of more than 24 percent.

When it comes to team building, Brown is viewed as more of an independent loner who stubbornly resists the conventional wisdom by pushing issues sufficiently bizarre to earn him the moniker "Governor Moonbeam" from the press.

Where Brown has had a spotty record, his opponent Meg Whitman has excelled. In a 10-year period at eBay, she exercised her leadership to grow the company from $4 million in annual revenues to almost $8 billion, adding some 15,000 private-sector jobs.

She did so by building a highly competitive team while being held personally and publicly accountable to a critical board of directors and demanding shareholders. Her performance earned her high accolades from the press. She was named one of the most powerful women in business by Fortune magazine, a "top manager" by Business Week and "one of the world's most influential people" by Time magazine.

Sorry, Jerry Brown, but when it comes to selecting a governor for these difficult times, we don't need a retread when we can get brand new. As a business woman, Whitman understands the importance of consistent, accountable results. We need her leadership to put California back on the right track - Right Here, Right Now!

Bill Kennedy lives in Valencia and is a principal in Wingspan Business Consulting, chairman of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp. and a planning commissioner. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of these organizations or The Signal. He can be reached at


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