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Jerry Brown reflects as Pat Brown gets his due at the Hall of Fame

California historian Kevin Starr, another honoree, calls the governor-elect a fusion of very liberal and very conservative ideas.

December 16, 2010|George Skelton | Capitol Journal

Gov.-elect Jerry Brown recalled that his late father, Gov. Pat Brown, was "a go-getter" who would "just keep going, keep pushing."

"I once took him to the monastery. He got so bored and so restless…. He did not like meditating."

The onetime Jesuit seminarian was saying a few words Tuesday night about his dad, who was being inducted posthumously into the California Hall of Fame, a creation in 2006 of First Lady Maria Shriver and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Jerry Brown, 72, was acknowledging what longtime Sacramento observers learned decades ago: He is one apple that did not fall close to the tree.

But what I especially found intriguing was an assessment of Jerry Brown by another new Hall of Fame inductee, California historian and author Kevin Starr. I interviewed Starr by phone Monday.

I noted to Starr that in the late 1970s he wrote a book chapter titled "Jerry Brown: The Governor as Zen Jesuit." What was that about? Starr summarized it.

Brown, he said, harbors "a combination of very liberal and very conservative ideas" because of his Jesuit training. "His Zen side was more mystical, although today he's more realistic.

"The very liberal and very conservative fused as paradoxical tension in his mind. Sometimes he's talking one thing and jumps over to something else. You think he's off topic, but he isn't. He's into parallelism. Left brain, right brain, left-right. One-two, one-two. He doesn't move in a straight line."

That helps explain the origins of what Brown used to call his "canoe theory of governing: Paddle a little on the left, paddle a little on the right and keep on going right down the middle."

No one has studied California more than Starr, 70. He has written eight volumes chronicling its history plus several other California-related books. And he no longer is as upbeat about the state as he once was.

"I'm upbeat about the private sector," said Starr, who describes himself as a moderate Democrat. "The private sector is fantastic."

But the public sector is failing, he said. Capitol politicians are "dysfunctional." And "if the state crashes on their watch, it's their responsibility. It would be the first failed state in American history."

What needs to be done?

"You start saying [to Californians], 'Either you pay for it or we cut it. If you want it, you have to pay for it. If you don't want it, then we must cut it. We can't keep it and run it for free.' "

Brown seems headed toward forcing voters to make that decision, possibly in a special election next June.

"I said to Jerry Brown, 'It may be your job to save California,' " Starr continued. And how did he respond? "You know Jerry, he doesn't give you a straight answer on anything."

Starr indisputably deserves California Hall of Fame status.

And Pat Brown's selection was long overdue. The legendary builder was one of California's three great governors — Earl Warren and Hiram Johnson being the other two, and they'd already been selected by Schwarzenegger and Shriver for the Hall.

Fourteen new members were inducted Tuesday night.

Actress-comedienne Betty White, 88, received the warmest response from the roughly 250 people attending the event at the California Museum near the Capitol. She drew laughs with the comment that the ceremony was "the biggest thrill an old broad can possibly get."

What she didn't say — with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 26, also being honored — was what she opined in May while hosting NBC-TV's "Saturday Night Live." A campaign by Facebook users had landed her the host role.

"I didn't know what Facebook was," she told the TV audience, presumably only half-joking. "And now that I do know what it is, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time. I would never say the people on it are losers, but that's only because I'm polite…. Needless to say, we didn't have Facebook when I was growing up. We had phonebook, but you wouldn't waste an afternoon with it."

Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz was honored one day after his 90th birthday. Schwarzenegger carted out a candle-lit cake and led the audience in singing "Happy Birthday."

Shultz predicted that in future years Schwarzenegger would be regarded more fondly by Californians than he is today because some of his reforms will be taking effect.

Later, country singer Merle Haggard, 73, was inducted and sang happy birthday to his 18-year-old son in the audience. Like Shultz, said the "Okie From Muskogee," his son's birthday was Monday. Very unscripted. Very cool.

Also honored:

— Filmmaker James Cameron, 56, ("Titanic," "Avatar") whose "Terminator" movies made Schwarzenegger a superstar.

— Singer-actress Barbra Streisand, 68, who always has seemed like a New Yorker to me but has a home in Malibu.

— Tennis star Serena Williams, 29. If Serena, why not also her sister Venus and make it a family thing?

— Others: Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr, 59; author Anne Lamott, 56; artist Wayne Thiebaud, 90.

— And finally, as in it's about time: A.P. Giannini, who founded Bank of America and pioneered lending to the working class, and Levi Strauss, who gave us blue jeans.

California's First Couple has missed the boat on several historic figures that deserve membership but haven't been selected:

Author Joan Didion, a chronicler of California's soul; the Beach Boys, who created the quintessential Southern California sound; baseball immortal Joe DiMaggio, whose family name is synonymous with San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf; his beloved ex-wife, actress Marilyn Monroe; UCLA basketball Coach John Wooden, whose Bruins won 10 NCAA titles in 12 years.

There's a long list.

Jerry Brown will get the next selections. Look for a Zen master.

george.skelton@latimes.com

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