According to some who know her well, that period was instrumental in forming Brown's dominant political attribute--the unbridled, often reality-stretching optimism about a California that still, recession or riots notwithstanding, offers its dreamy possibilities. Jim Margolis, a political consultant who has worked for Brown since her 1990 treasurer's race, believes her personality was indelibly marked by experiencing California during her father's administration, "when it really was this golden moment for California: economic growth, schools that seemed to work, the best education system in the country." To Kathleen Brown, he says, "that's not something that has to be just a historical view."
While her family history gave her reason for optimism, it also set her up for a lifetime of comparisons. During most of her adulthood, Brown has been publicly defined more by her kinships to well-known men than by what she has done. In style and personality, however, she is far more her father's daughter than her brother's sister. And it is to the nostalgia over Pat Brown's reign as governor, filled as it was with expansion and growth, that she plays in almost every speech.
There are few obvious similarities between her and Jerry. He is the never-married loner; she is the mother and stepmother to five children, doting grandmother to two. His passion is vented loudly, hers is indecipherable under a cool demeanor. He defines political risk; she has "probably taken just a few major risks in her life," says her daughter Hilary, 27. His is the tension of a son competing against his namesake father, hers is the ease of a daughter who has never found the mantle of heredity a burden. "I'm convinced that an awful lot of (Jerry) is still an act of rebellion against his father and how he was raised," says one who has known and admired the family for a quarter-century. "His ideas are communicated in confrontational fashion. She is at peace with the world. I don't think she came into her adult years expecting to be the governor of California."
Jerry suggests that his sister's caution aligns her with the "mainstream politics" to which he once aspired and now disdains. But, asked if she would make a good governor, he readily replies, "Sure! She's certainly got the experience or will have by the time she gets there." Will he be involved? "I don't know. I didn't get active in her treasurer's campaign."
Their relationship is complex and has tested her political savvy in public ways. Last summer's Democratic Convention in New York City was to be Kathleen Brown's national coming-out party; she was chosen to deliver a high-profile speech on the one night the party pooh-bahs had dedicated to women. But it was not to be so simple. The problem was Jerry, who despite the odds against success, continued to wage his presidential campaign until the moment of his concession speech.
Kathleen, not wishing to publicly repudiate her brother, held off endorsing Bill Clinton. Time after time, reporters clamored to know: What about Jerry? Her only response was a sly insert into her address: "For generations, women have put others first--our parents and kids, our husbands and our \o7 brothers\f7 , our friends and our bosses," she told the delegates. But those watching on CNN did not hear her words. As she uttered them, the network switched to an interview with Jerry. "Preempting her moment," a senior aide to Kathleen would later say.
Jerry Brown denies he meant to knock his sister off the air. "Candidates don't set the time of interviews," he says heatedly. "Also, I didn't know she was speaking. Nobody told me."
TOUGHNESS OF THE KIND NECESSARY TO BE GOVERNOR IS ONE OF THE unknowns about Brown. But certainly campaigning tests a politician's mettle, and in 1990, Brown demonstrated that she could more than hold her own. She took on appointed Treasurer Thomas Hayes and beat him with an aggressive, hammering attack. Always on the offensive, she derided Hayes as a mere green-eyeshade bureaucrat and said that California needed more--it needed political vision. Hayes, without the necessary money and the political gut instinct for self-preservation, wilted under the barrage.
But governing exacts its own demands, and perhaps the best example of how Brown might react as California's chief executive can be found by looking back to the late 1970s, to a time when she found herself confronted with her most difficult--and formative--personal and professional challenges.
She had long kept her political leanings quiet. At Stanford University, her most public political action was door-to-door campaigning on behalf of Lyndon Johnson, during which she became reacquainted with the brother of a boy she had dated in eighth grade. George Arthur Rice and Kathleen Brown quickly became an item, so much so that the governor's daughter up and eloped one spring day. She was 19.