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Taking state's reins for 3rd time

At Brown's swearing-in, his loose yet serious style becomes apparent.

January 04, 2011|By Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times
  • Flanked by his wife, Anne Gust Brown, Jerry Brown leaves Sacramento Memorial Auditorium after he was sworn in as governor of California
Flanked by his wife, Anne Gust Brown, Jerry Brown leaves Sacramento Memorial… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Sacramento — Jerry Brown had been in the governor's office less than a day, but already the Capitol felt completely different.

Gone were the over-the-top media events, the throngs of CHP bodyguards, the legions of highly paid advisors spinning the chief executive's every move. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose tenure ended with Brown's inauguration at 11 a.m. Monday, often ran the place as if it were the White House; Brown seems set on transforming it into something more like a county seat.

One thing the two men, who represent different political parties, seem to have in common is a pragmatic, centrist approach to governing. Brown, a Democrat, chastised lawmakers in his inaugural speech, saying their compulsion to "remain in comfort zones, rehearsing and rehashing old political positions," has caused voters to lose trust in their government. It was a line the Republican Schwarzenegger's team could have written.

But otherwise, the two larger-than-life personalities couldn't be more different.

Brown's inaugural speech highlighted his goal of realigning the relationship between state and local government, a wonky topic Schwarzenegger would surely have avoided. Brown stressed the need for Californians to make sacrifices – "Choices have to be made and difficult decisions taken" — a point Schwarzenegger stayed away from when he took office.

There were changes in scenery as well as rhetoric. The famous smoking tent Schwarzenegger erected in the governor's office courtyard had been hauled away by the time Brown took his oath. There would be no more talk of charming lawmakers over expensive cigars.

Where Schwarzenegger plotted to entertain and astonish, Brown appears to wing it, as he did throughout most of his career. Schwarzenegger's motto early on was, "Action, action, action." Brown is taking it one day at a time.

"It's like watching a case of bipolar disorder," said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Sacramento State. "Arnold had this media machine the size of General Motors....Jerry prefers to be a monk and not have anything examined until it is fully formed."

The stark change in style reflects the transformation Sacramento went through the last time Brown was governor, in the 1970s, when he succeeded Ronald Reagan. Bruce Cain, a professor of political science at UC Berkeley, says Reagan, a movie star like Schwarzenegger, ran the government as if it were a corporation, with a clear hierarchy and lots of planning. Brown conducted business as though the state were a Silicon Valley start-up, with a fuzzy chain of command and the governor involved in minute decisions.

"Brown's style is chaotic," Cain said.

The Brown administration wouldn't even commit to the new governor's schedule on his first day in office. Maybe he would eat a hot dog with the union rank and file who were celebrating his inauguration, they said, or maybe he'd hang out at his loft a few blocks from the Capitol and get himself moved in. He hadn't decided by midmorning.

Ultimately, he went with the hot dog. But in a scene that had played out time and again on the campaign trail, Brown wandered through the crowd at the Capitol on Monday trying to find his destination. Supporters crowded around him and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, as the couple sought the frankfurter tent.

Eventually a worker popped a flap and handed him a pair of hot dogs. "Don't get it on your coat," Brown told his wife as she opened mustard packets.

Brown arrived at the inauguration ceremony riding shotgun in a sedan with barely an entourage. The incoming attorney general, Kamala Harris, who is far from a household name in California, seemed to overshadow him in her large SUV and what appeared to be a security detail.

At a private reception in the governor's office, which Schwarzenegger and former Gov. Gray Davis also attended, security was lax. The governors chatted as supporters gathered around conference tables lined with pineapple, pepperoni and mushroom pizza.

Curious tourists ducked in to greet the new governor and shake his hand. "Who are you?" Brown asked one woman, who told The Times she was a state worker but declined to give her name.

"He thought I was somebody from his entourage," she said. "He said, 'You act like you know what you're doing.' "

Brown posed for several photos, sandwiched between Davis and Schwarzenegger. On leaving the reception, Schwarzenegger shook Brown's hand. Brown said, "I'll call you."

Brown's late-afternoon party at the state railroad museum was a subdued affair, costing the new governor's donors less than $100,000.

Schwarzenegger raised $2 million for his last inaugural event, which included a performance by Donna Summer.

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