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'I Was in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time With the Wrong Message'


For two years, Kathleen Brown lived a candidate's life. She went without sleep. She gave up her family's privacy. She asked complete strangers for money.

She did all these things, made all these sacrifices, in the hopes of becoming governor. Instead, the state treasurer said with a sad smile, "I got hammered.

"I was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong message," Brown said the other day as she reflected on her failed bid to unseat Gov. Pete Wilson.

Sitting in her Hollywood Hills home, her feet tucked under her on a couch near a warm fire, Brown talked at length about what she described as a frustrating but exhilarating campaign--one that taught her hard lessons, but also inspired her to believe more than ever in the future of California.

Disappointment often filled her voice, and at times Brown fought to control her emotions as she tried to explain how campaign advertisements, public appearances and her detailed, 62-page economic plan all failed to give the electorate a clear understanding of her or her program. In that regard, she said, "I don't think I was as effective as I might have been."

Although she at times spoke critically--of Wilson, of the news media and of herself--she said she was determined to be "a builder, not a blamer, to the end." Brown showered her campaign staff with praise. Her defeat, she said, was a product of the times.

"What frustrated me the most was my inability to successfully break through on the issues that I really cared about and thought were important--like education and the economy and the (budget)," she said. "The people were too hot and bothered about these other emotional issues . . . illegal immigration and crime, where I embraced a philosophical position that went against the public emotion of the day.

"I kept thinking, 'Well, the people want a better California and they want their schools to be better and they want their colleges to be affordable and accessible and they want someone who's going to clean up government and make it work. And that's something that we can rally around,' " she said. "But what I saw was how much easier and more facile a task it was to divide people, to find an enemy, to find a bogyman."

Brown talked with pride about her opposition to Proposition 187, the ballot measure to deny services to illegal immigrants that was approved by 59% of the electorate. Toward the end of her campaign, Brown mentioned the initiative in every speech, warning voters that it would only fuel racial tensions.

"It hammered one more nail in my coffin, every single day that I spoke about it," Brown said with a wry laugh. But "it was a moral voice. It was a fight for California, for the new California that we're going to be living with no matter who's governor."

During the campaign's last weeks, as the debate raged over Proposition 187, Brown said, she was struck by memories of 1964, when her father, then-Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown Sr., campaigned against Proposition 14, a constitutional amendment that voided state fair housing laws.

"It gave people the right to basically discriminate on who they sold their property to based upon race. It was clearly unconstitutional. . . . But it touched all of the hearthstone issues. It was about your home and your neighborhood and it went to some of these fundamental issues that swirl around the issue of race," said Brown. Californians overwhelmingly approved the measure, which was invalidated by the courts.

Sometimes her father's speeches on Proposition 14, like a few of her own on Proposition 187, were met with "thunderous boos. I remember the hatred, the anger and the cheers--the depth of raw emotion."

But then as now, Brown said, she does not fault the people who harbored those emotions.

"They're voters who are struggling through their day. . . . They're frustrated and mad as hell and don't know what to do about it," she said. "But I do hold to account political leaders whose job it is to be not only an instrument of the public will, but also to be leaders in articulating the right way and the wrong way to solve these fundamental problems--to channel that anger."

Those who watched Brown during the last days, when her campaign was so low on money that it could not afford to advertise on TV, marveled at her unflagging buoyancy.

"How did I keep doing it?" she asked, repeating a visitor's question. "I kept getting better, you know? I kept getting better! And the response of the people. . . ."

Her voice cracked and her eyes gleamed with tears. After a pause, Brown said: "I had an assignment, a task, a mission. If you're a general, you don't whine and you don't complain. You point the people in the direction they need to go to get to where you need to be. You take what you've got and you make the best you can out of it.

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