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Anne Gust Brown: Much more than California's first lady

As special advisor to her husband, Gov. Jerry Brown, she's a power in her own right.

June 06, 2012|Patt Morrison
  • Anne Gust Brown, wife of Gov. Jerry Brown, is seen at a press conference the day after her husband defeated Republican Meg Whitman.
Anne Gust Brown, wife of Gov. Jerry Brown, is seen at a press conference the… (Hector Amezcua / )

Compared to the glamour and swagger of the Schwarzenegger/Shriver years, California's present governor and his wife are a couple of homebodies with a touch of the workaholic. Indeed, some Californians may be surprised to know that Jerry Brown has been married for the last seven years — to a woman he'd dated for 15 more. Anne Gust Brown is a Stanford grad and Bay Area lawyer who spent years as an executive at the Gap before she joined her husband's campaigns and his staff as an unpaid aide, first when he ran for attorney general and now, in his return to the governorship after nearly 30 years. She is often joined at the Capitol offices by the first dog, Sutter the corgi.

How would you write your job description?

My title is special advisor, in addition to first lady. I try to find where I can be most helpful in giving advice.

Jacqueline Kennedy said "first lady" sounded like the name of a race horse.

That's a great line. I also am not that fond of the title, but I didn't have a great quip like that.

There are women who give up their careers for their husbands'. Does that define what you did?

I don't think that defines it, although at the time we decided to get married, I had already decided to leave the Gap and move on. I might have gone on more boards, things like that, but Jerry really did want me to get involved with helping him on running his attorney general campaign and then helping in the AG office. It's been fascinating and fun in terms of the work, and it's strengthened our relationship too.

Who drags whom out of the office at night?

Usually I'm dragging him. Between Sutter the dog, who needs to get home to eat or do his business, one of the two of us is dragging him out. I am married to a person who likes to work seven days a week. He loves what he does and finds it not only his vocation but his hobby.

The governor has a tax measure on the November ballot. What about the potentially competing education tax measure sponsored by attorney Molly Munger?

I don't feel that it'll be much of a problem. We were worried more about the prior initiative [put forward by the California Federation of Teachers] because [it] was very popular, and to have two competing popular tax initiatives I thought was a worry. I was glad we were able to agree to move forward together. The Munger initiative is just very different, and I don't think it's as much a direct competitor.

I gather you called her to get a sense of whether she'd take her measure off the ballot.

No, actually she's the one who's reached out to me a number of times, probably three or four conversations.

California already taxes the wealthy a lot; we have Proposition 13, passed when the governor was first in office. Isn't it time to blow up some tax boxes?

I think everyone would love to do serious tax reform, Jerry included. It's a struggle. Arnold had a commission that came up with recommendations, and they seemed to be almost dead on arrival. It's a very complex system. People hate it [yet] they're invested in it. The devil they know is better than the devil they don't, so it's very hard to change. Right now we've got to stabilize our fiscal house, get our budget back in balance, which he went a long way last year to doing.

What are the misconceptions about the governor? I'm thinking of "aloof," "cool," "intellectual."

That would be a misconception. He's very intelligent, but he's a very caring and warm person.

There's about 20 years between you two. Do you bring him a perspective he might not otherwise encounter?

From our ages, no, I don't think so, although there is the random reference he'll make to something I've never heard of, or vice versa. Where I've brought perspective is mostly from my business background.

I don't think of him as a Luddite. Is he?

Jerry? Noooo. Are you kidding? He's very keen on all of his technology. He can tweet; he's very savvy.

It's trendy to say government should be run like a business. Would that work?

Business is just very different from how we have structured government, so I don't think that's comparable. Certainly there are efficiencies and good business practices that can be applied in government, but Jerry isn't like a chief executive officer of a company who can pretty much set directions, decide, hire, fire everyone in the company, and reports only to a board of directors. [In] government there's a chief executive, the governor, but there's a legislature and a court system, and constraints on each one that you don't find in companies.

People in politics always remark on how different campaigning is from governing.

It's like building up a whole company for one day of sales, and then you shut it down. You win or lose based on whether you can get 50 plus 1% of sales, so it's a very odd business model because you live or die off that one day. In government, you have to think for the long term. You make decisions that aren't just about what happens today but what's best for a longer period of time.

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