Jerry Brown, Casual Governor
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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.
I still remember the day I was sitting outside a Starbucks on Ocean Park Boulevard when a squadron of SUV's pulled up.
They were all black, with the tinted windows that celebrities like for privacy and, let's face it, a little bit of showmanship.
Out jumped three or four guys in suits – and the governor at the time, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
There was no way the Terminator could slip in for an afternoon coffee unnoticed, with or without the entourage. But Arnold liked his trappings of office. The comfort of aides around to answer questions.
The private jet that ferried him between LA and Sacramento.
Contrast that with Jerry Brown, who flew down for his first LA speech as governor – this time – on Southwest to Burbank.
No business class. No press aides or yes men. Just a couple of state cops who scampered keep up.
Brown was casual the last time he was governor, a term that ended in 1982.
But this time around, he's taking his "make it up as he goes along" style to a higher level.
Sometimes it's charming, if you like politicians to actually be ordinary people, and not just to say they are.
In other cases...like when Brown fails to win over Republicans on his budget plan...or when he falls back on policy advice more suited to 1982...it can seem like lack of preparation.
Or lack of attention to detail. An echo back to the old Jerry Brown.
But this is a new Jerry Brown, in many ways. A profile by Adam Nagourney in the New York Times Magazine this weekend found he's still a micromanager who will be late to meetings because he got entangled in editing a a one-paragraph news release.
He refuses to work off a schedule...or even much of a written plan of action, apparently.
Nagourney writes that Brown is more apt to impulsively pick up the phone to call a lower-level commissioner than agree to a briefing with a department head. He's just not into structure, says his wife, Anne.
The undercover police who have to go with him around the state protect themselves by making back-up reservations on Southwest, in case Brown changes his mind. Or just runs late.
Anne Gust Brown tells the story that during the campaign, major policy positions would sometimes come down to her and Jerry sitting at the computer, writing down ideas as needed.
As governor, Brown has opted not to employ offices full of speech writers and consultants. He also declined to anoint a chief of staff, saying sarcastically that people with that title begin to think they are the president...or the governor.
Brown's stripped-down, nonchalant informality is working so far as media imagery. There's something refreshing about seeing him refuse to be treated like a royal or a celebrity, after the excesses of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But Brown is a celebrity. And he's also a target for political opportunism, by rivals who might see his folksy style as weakness.
Brown's going to need more than informality to stay ahead of the budget crisis and other governance issues coming his way.
For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.