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Los Angeles Times Interview : Kathleen Brown : The Brown Charm Continued: But She's on the Hot Seat Now

February 02, 1992|Douglas P. Shuit | Douglas P. Shuit in a reporter in the Sacramento bureau for The Times. He interviewed Kathleen Brown in her office

SACRAMENTO — Kathleen Brown, just a year into her first term as state treasurer, is one of those rare politicians, someone pleasant to be around. She laughs a lot and always seems to be in a conversation, her hazel eyes staring directly at a questioner, relaxed but alert. Brown watched first her father, Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, and then her brother, Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., jump from statewide offices--attorney general and secretary of state, respectively--to the governorship of California. Many believe it is only a matter of time before she becomes the third member of the Brown clan to run for the state's highest office. But if Kathleen Brown feels any pressure, she doesn't show it. She frequently drops references to her father and brother into conversation, and happily accepts the role thrust on her.

For now, Brown says she is content to keep her eyes focused on the treasurer's office. She is responsible for earning top interest rates on a portfolio of more than $20 billion in funds held for state and local governments. She also administers the sale of billions of dollars worth of state bonds to build schools and other public facilities. Along with the office goes membership on dozens of state boards and commissions involved with safeguarding the public's money.

Brown, a lawyer, won her first elective office in 1975, when she took a seat on the Los Angeles Board of Education. She was reelected in 1979, but resigned to move to New York with her husband, Van Gordon Sauter, a television executive who took a top job with CBS. She practiced law in New York, then returned to Los Angeles when her husband left the network. She was appointed to the Los Angeles Board of Public Works by Mayor Tom Bradley in 1987, and served there until beginning her campaign for treasurer in 1989. By mutual agreement, she and her husband decided it is now "her turn" to pursue her career.

She and her husband share five children from previous marriages. At 46, Brown awaits the births of her first grandchildren, expected to be twins. Brown, who maintains a home in both Los Angeles and Sacramento, spends roughly one-third of her time in Los Angeles, one-third of her time in Sacramento and the rest traveling. In conversation, Brown is open and engaging, like her father, Pat Brown, with only a little of the cold, hard edge of her brother, Jerry.

Question: How do you answer the governor's top fiscal adviser and the chairman of the Assembly committee responsible for bond measures who recently criticized you for your comments about Gov. Pete Wilson's proposed budget?

Answer: I am elected as treasurer to be, in part, the state's fiscal watchdog and to advise the state Legislature and the governor and the public about the state's credit worthiness. When the credit-rating agencies unanimously indicate to me that a prudent reserve is required for a AAA budget, and the governor announces a budget with a reserve of less than one-quarter of 1%, the alarm goes off.

Q: Is there something structurally unsound with the California budget? Are we on a course where every year we will be forced to spend more money than the state's tax system produces?

A: The structural imbalance, as it has been described, has been growing over the last decade. In a sense, the deficit from (last) year was a balloon payment that had to be made because no one was dealing with that problem. . . . It's my belief that, unless California can become more competitive in the job-creation arena, we will have serious problems in the years to come.

Q: During your campaign, you said voters wanted more than a green eyeshade. You argued that Californians were looking for someone with a vision to see the future and invest in it. What is your vision?

A: This is a critical time in our state's history. We've moved from being a state that was land-rich and people-poor, with all that that implies, to a state that is people-rich and land-poor. How we manage our way through this new era of exploding population and through the dwindling of our natural resources is what the challenge is.

If I had a vision for California it would be that we prevailed, we managed our resources well and wisely, that we took charge of the problems that we are facing, and that we were once again able, as a state, to do what each generation before us has done--which is to invest in our future, whether it's in education, or whether it's in infrastructure, or whether it's in the environment that is so extraordinary here in California. So my vision would be one of investing in people and in resources so that California can enjoy this new era that we are entering.

Q: \o7 Your father was identified with some classic concrete-and-steel achievements--the state water project, the dramatic growth of the University of California. Do you envision a future with those kinds of achievements or are you talking about other ways of doing things?

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