In this first biography of Edmund Gerald Brown Jr. in more than thirty years, Chuck McFadden explores the unique persona of one of the most idiosyncratic politicians in California history. Son of California political royalty who forged his own political style against the tumultuous backdrop of a huge, balkanized state—and shoved to and fro by complex currents—Jerry Brown plumbed his visionary impulses as well as his grandiose ambitions. McFadden traces Brown’s childhood in San Francisco, his time studying for the priesthood, his unusual political career, and his romances—including a long-term relationship with singer Linda Ronstadt. He describes Brown’s first two terms as governor advocating for farm workers, women and minorities, his time roaming the world in a spiritual quest, and his return to the gritty world of politics as chairman of the California Democratic Party and then mayor of Oakland. Political experts weigh in with thoughts about the remarkable 2010 campaign that saw the 72-year-old Brown winning his third term in office while being vastly outspent by Republican Meg Whitman. Concise, insightful, and enlivened by the events and personalities that colored the history of California, Trailblazer provides an intimate portrait of the pugnacious, adept politician who has bucked national trends to become a leader of one of the largest economies in the world.
Trailblazer A Biography of Jerry Brown
Politics and Religion
It is not just my family but every Californian is heir to some form of powerful tradition, some history of overcoming challenges much more daunting than those we face today.
Jerry Brown, third inaugural address, January 3, 2011
Californians in 1938 were busy. In Hollywood, producer David Selznick was masterminding a nationwide search for the young woman who would play Scarlett O'Hara in the forthcoming supercolossal epic Gone with the Wind. (There were salacious rumors that he was conducting part of his talent hunt on the casting couch.) In the hills above Berkeley, Ernest Orlando Lawrence was working on his atom-smashing cyclotron, a scientific advance that would win him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1939 and contribute to the development of the atomic bomb. The San Francisco Chronicle and the Examiner carried headlines about distant war in Asia and potential war in Europe, but they had little immediate significance to most people, who were still getting used to driving on the Golden Gate Bridge, just eleven months old, and the Bay Bridge, a mere seventeen months old. The Golden State's burgeoning population was soaring from 5.6 million in 1930 on its way to 6.9 million in 1940, even while families were feeling the effects of the Great Depression.
An ambitious young San Francisco attorney named Edmund G. "Pat" Brown became the father of a baby boy on April 7, 1938, the third of what would be Pat and his wife Bernice's four children. They named the new arrival for his father, Edmund Gerald Brown, but most people called him Jerry. He had no brothers. His three sisters were Barbara and Cynthia, both older than Jerry, and Kathleen, the youngest, who came along in 1945, seven years after Jerry.
Jerry Brown is a fourth-generation Californian, born into what passes in that state for a family with ancient roots there. One side of the family came from Germany, the other from Ireland, and both arrived in 1852. Augustus Fiedler Schuckman, from Westphalia, settled in the Colusa County town of Williams, amid wheat and barley country. He was one of the thousands of settlers who flooded into California four years after gold had been discovered in the tailrace of a lumber mill in the Sierra foothills owned by an enterprising Swiss immigrant named John Sutter. But Augustus sought his fortune in settled, peaceful farming in California's Central Valley, not panning for gold in a rough miner settlement.
He came to a place isolated from the rest of the nation and, indeed, the world. A popular song of the era declared of those who would come to California:
They swam the wide rivers and crossed the tall peaks
And camped on the prairie for weeks upon weeks.
Starvation and cholera and hard work and slaughter,
They reached California in spite of hell and high water.
Augustus kept his own more personal record of his six-month trip to California. It was a classic pioneer saga. Here are excerpts from the diary he kept during the trek:
"On the 26th of June, we came to the first sand desert-it was 41 miles. We went there at night and rode 19 hours in it. ...
"On the 26th of July, we came to the second large plain-also 40 miles long. Here we lost seven oxen which died of thirst. ... Thousands of cows, horses and mules were lying about dead. ...
"The discarded wagons by the hundreds were driven together and burned. We saw wagons standing that would never be taken out again and more than 1,000 guns that had been broken up. Here on this 40 miles are treasures that can never be taken out again."
Schuckman did well enough in his new surroundings to build Mountain House eventually, a stage stop in Sonoma County that included a bar, a post office, lodging, and a small store. He and his wife, Augusta, had eight children. One of them, Ida, found herself drawn in 1896 to the glamour and wealth of San Francisco, the commercial center of the West Coast with a growing population of three hundred thousand.
Amid the towering ten- and fifteen-story buildings, plush hotel lobbies, and breathtaking views of sparkling San Francisco Bay, Ida met and married Edmund Joseph Brown, the son of an Irish Golden Gate Park gardener named Joseph Brown. Joseph and his wife, Bridgette, had come from Tipperary, in County Cork. They sought their fortune in a two-year-old state where, it was well known, one could pick gold nuggets right up off the ground, the climate was always miraculously sunny, and the scenery was astonishing. The settlers found that at least the last part was true.
Joseph managed to stay married to Bridgette and employed by the city and was apparently a satisfactory gardener, even though he did occasionally go off on three- or four-day benders. It happened only two or three times a year, however, and Joseph took vows of sobriety after each frolic.
Joseph was content to remain in his humble job, tending the flowers in Golden Gate Park, but that was an unusual characteristic among Jerry Brown's ancestors. Joseph's son Edmund, Ida's new husband, aimed higher. Edmund was a merry, free-spirited Irish Catholic who wanted to make his fortune in business. And why not? San Francisco was full of opportunity. Edmund started by opening a cigar store on Market Street and in 1905 branched out, opening a nickelodeon. As the years went by, the family's fortunes gyrated with the prudence of freewheeling Edmund's various financial ventures, which in addition to the cigar store and the nickelodeon included at one time or another a laundry, a penny arcade, and a full-scale vaudeville theater that tanked. The great 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire forced the Browns to move briefly across the bay to almost-untouched Oakland, the city that would elect Jerry Brown as its mayor ninety-three years later.
Along with the nickelodeon acquisition, the year 1905 saw the arrival of a son, named Edmund Gerald Brown. When he was twelve years old, the future governor would acquire his nickname "Pat," for Patrick Henry, after giving a sales pitch for World War I Liberty Bonds and ending it with "Give me liberty or give me death!"
Young Pat was an intelligent and convivial child who grew up to be an outgoing, likable man and a natural politician. He was not fond of the up-and-down entrepreneurial life led by his father and sought something that would give him respectability and a more secure income-like the law. There was the added advantage that it would provide an appropriate springboard for the political career Pat was already thinking about. Pat attended the San Francisco College of Law, won his law degree in 1927, passed the bar that same year, and went into practice, working for Milton Schmitt, a blind attorney who became his mentor.
By the time Jerry came along, Pat was prospering as an up-and-coming young attorney who had begun to afford the better things in life. Even though their circumstances were comfortable, however, Pat Brown disputed the idea that his son was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
"We never had any money to speak of," he told interviewer Orville Schell. "When I ran for DA of San Francisco, I was only making $8,000 a year. I had won some lawsuits, but I never had any money. We never took any trips."
Jerry was born at St. Mary's Hospital, the first in a series of institutions that had "St." or "Sacred" or "Santa" as part of their names and would largely influence his first two decades. He grew up in a white, five-bedroom Mediterranean-style house on Magellan Avenue in the desirable Forest Hills section of San Francisco.
Magellan Avenue today seems little changed from the time young Jerry Brown was there. Despite the nearby busy streets, it is a quiet, pleasant, tree-lined upper-middle-class neighborhood, with a mixture of large Italianate, Tudor, and Spanish-style houses. Home prices today range from $1.5 million and up, with most fetching far more than that.
His parents had a lifelong love affair. Bernice Layne Brown was the stunningly good-looking and enormously intelligent daughter of a San Francisco police captain. She graduated from high school at age fourteen and from the University of California's Berkeley campus at eighteen; she was teaching school at nineteen. If the career straitjackets imposed on women at the time had not been present, there is no telling what Bernice Layne Brown might have attained in a professional life had she been so inclined to pursue one.
Bernice had first attracted Pat's eye when she was only thirteen, when they were in the same history class at Lowell High School. Lowell was and is an elite public school that numbers among its graduates actors Bill Bixby and Benjamin Bratt, U.S. Supreme Court associate justice Stephen Breyer, Alexander Calder, the artist who invented the mobile, and actress-singer Carol Channing. Pat had almost immediately tried to get a date with pretty Bernice, but her parents ruled that she was too young to go out with boys. But Pat persisted, and after years of courtship, he and Bernice eloped to Reno, Nevada, on October 30, 1930. They had to elope and marry on the sly because women teachers in 1930 were not allowed to marry. Pat was twenty-five.
In contrast to her ebullient, politicking husband and her non-ebullient, intellectual, politician son, Bernice was ambivalent about politics. In a 1960 news release, the governor's office said, "Mrs. Brown frankly admits that she never would have chosen a political career for her husband if the choice had been hers to make." But she "gracefully assumed the role of First Lady. As First Lady, she was a popular speaker, often offering intimate stories of family life in the governor's mansion."
Pat made friends easily, an asset that fueled his political ambitions. Just one year into his law career, in 1928, he ran for the state Assembly as a Republican but lost. At the urging of a friend, labor lawyer and fellow Lowell High alumnus Matthew Tobriner, he switched to the Democratic Party in 1932, and in 1939 he ran for San Francisco district attorney against incumbent Matthew Brady. He lost again. But in 1943, when Jerry was five, indomitable Pat ran again, and this time he won. He would be in public office for the next twenty-three years.
As the district attorney of San Francisco with an eye for higher office, Pat eventually performed what was almost a rite of passage for law enforcement officials of that era, even in wink-at-sin San Francisco. He launched a headline-seeking campaign against vice. He cracked down on bookies and led a raid on San Francisco's most elegant bordello, run by Sally Stanford. Most political observers at the time credited the antivice campaign, especially the 1949 raid on Ms. Stanford's popular establishment, as a major factor in Pat's successful campaign for California attorney general a year later.
In 1946, as the well-regarded Democratic district attorney of a major California city, the ever-ambitious Pat had thought himself well poised to run for state attorney general. He took on Frederick Howser, a former member of the Assembly who was the district attorney for Los Angeles County. Howser beat him. But four years later, with the Sally Stanford raid under his belt, Pat tried again and beat Republican opponent Ed Shattuck by 225,000 votes. In what would be regarded as freakish today, parts of California were plastered with billboards urging voters to cast ballots for Democrat Brown and the ever-popular Republican governor Earl Warren. The governor had not liked Howser, but he did like the affable Brown and looked favorably on Brown's use of his name. Brown was the only Democrat to win statewide election in California that year, which saw Earl Warren win a third term as governor. Brown's son Jerry, in a somewhat parallel triumph, was to be a Democratic victor in a mostly Republican year when he was elected secretary of state twenty years later, in 1970.
Although he was a politician to his core with an eye for the next chance to move up, Pat had a strong sense of right and wrong-most of the time. He opposed the forced relocation of some ninety-three thousand California residents of Japanese descent, including those who were U.S. citizens, during the early days of World War II. It was a courageous stand, especially for a politically ambitious young man. The relocation had been endorsed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and most other army and civilian authorities, and Brown's opposition stood in marked contrast to the position of his friend Earl Warren, who as governor endorsed the policy. (Warren later said he regretted his role in the relocation.)
Pat Brown was a visionary and an idealist who sought to make California a better place by being a civic booster on a grand scale, building freeways, opening new university campuses-three University of California branches in one year, 1965-and creating an enormous water project. Jerry absorbed his father's sense of vision but manifested it differently. More reserved, intellectually inclined, and with a strong commitment to personal austerity, he grew up questioning his father's backslapping ebulliency and unswerving devotion to pouring concrete. Despite his more self-reflective nature, however, Jerry also internalized his father's ferocious ambition.
Both Pat and Jerry were entranced by the rough-and-tumble game of moving masses of people in a desired direction, and both were prepared to do what was necessary to accomplish political goals. Pat could pull an occasional dirty trick; if Jerry ever did, it escaped public notice.
Jerry's political heritage was therefore formed as he grew up in a serious, but certainly not gloomy, household where law, politics, religion, and ambition dominated the adult conversation that Jerry eagerly absorbed and would adumbrate his lifelong interests in politics and various intellectual or spiritual pursuits. He was an inquisitive, intelligent child who listened closely to adult dinner-table discussion and asked endless questions. Despite his idealism, he learned early the value of using voters' fears and ignorance as campaign tools, even by candidates such as his father, who told fearful voters he would stand up against eastern hoodlums and Communist subversives.
There is little evidence that humor played much of a role in Jerry's upbringing. While it is true that Pat Brown was an outgoing man who was extremely likable, he was not known as a great teller of jokes, and neither was Bernice. Young Brown grew up in an atmosphere emphasizing achievement, substance, and serious concerns. Humor was not a mainstay of life on Magellan Avenue. Politics was. "I was attracted and repelled by what I saw of politics in my father's house. The adventure. The opportunity. The grasping, the artificiality, the obvious manipulation and role-playing, the repetition of emotion without feeling-particularly that-the repetition of emotion. ... I've always felt I could see the limitations because I was brought up in it," Jerry said years later. Jerry also got a close-up look at California politics on the campaign trail, accompanying Pat as a twelve-year-old in 1950 when his father endeavored to show voters up and down the state that a good family man was running for attorney general.
But it wasn't all politics in the serious Brown home. Spiritual concerns have always been an important part of Jerry's life. In his first twenty years, they manifested themselves in his intense devotion to the Catholic Church. He attended St. Brendan's, a Catholic grammar school near his home, then San Francisco's St. Ignatius High School-now known as St. Ignatius College Preparatory-founded by the Jesuits in 1855. He graduated in the school's centennial year, 1955. He was devoted enough to the Catholic Church to attend services on his seventeenth birthday, causing him to miss a surprise birthday party his friends threw for him.
As he matured and learned more about the world and its inhabitants, however, Brown became less attached to the formal teachings of the church. By the time he was twenty-one, he had left his seminary in a rebellion against the strictures of Jesuit teaching. Brown then began to express his moral convictions in more secular and independent ways, opposing the death penalty, working on behalf of farmworkers, and bringing those who were previously excluded into the mainstream of state government. He discovered that his idealism could be expressed through, of all things, nitty-gritty politics.
Jerry Brown therefore grew to maturity with two concurrent streams of thought running through his young psyche: his love-hate relationship with the facts of life involved in big-city politics, and the pursuit of Catholicism's lessons. Catholicism and political ambition are a combination that many Irish politicians grew up with, in Boston, New York, and other big cities, but few of them pursued the theological side of the combination with the dogged persistence, moral conviction, and intelligence of Jerry Brown.
Every biography of Jerry Brown that covers his youthful years paints a picture of an essentially serious, highly introspective young person who nonetheless played football with his friends in the neighborhood and indulged in the usual adolescent adventures, even while being occupied with thoughts of the important matters of politics and religion. But unlike most of his friends, Jerry found argument with adults enjoyable for its own sake. He asked questions persistently at the Brown dinner table and loved conversations about abstractions. He constantly sought answers to the Big Questions.
At St. Ignatius, Jerry was a debater and a cheerleader, but "the only reason you would be aware of Jerry at that time is he was the son of the attorney general," said Frank Damrell, a debate opponent from Modesto who later became a college roommate. But biographer Roger Rapoport, in his dual biography of Jerry and Pat Brown, California Dreaming: The Political Odyssey of Pat and Jerry Brown, has a differing version of Jerry Brown's days at St. Ignatius, saying that Brown "distinguished himself in the oral arts. No one at St. Ignatius could match his verbal abilities." Rapoport reports that Brown was a star on the debate team and won freshman elocution and sophomore oratorical contests. He developed a technique of picking apart an opponent's case with a series of strategic questions.
When he graduated from St. Ignatius at age seventeen, Jerry wanted to enter a seminary and train for the priesthood. But he had to be eighteen to do that without parental consent, and Pat refused to give it. He advised his son to attend college for a year, and then, if Jerry still wanted to become a priest, he would consent.
Brown may very well have had spiritual reasons for wanting to enter the seminary, but it's a good bet that he also wanted to out of rebellion, said George Skelton, the longtime political columnist for the Los Angeles Times who has covered Brown for more than four decades. "He was rebelling against society, I guess-against the way things work," Skelton said.
Acceding to his father's wishes, Jerry, with a few of his St. Ignatius friends, entered Santa Clara College, a pleasant and quiet males-only Jesuit institution thirty miles south of San Francisco, in the heart of what was then known as the Valley of the Heart's Delight and would later become Silicon Valley. Santa Clara College appeared to be an ideal place to begin higher education for a thoughtful young man with a strong religious bent and some thoughts about politics. Now a university, Santa Clara declares its goal to be "the preparation of students to assume leadership roles in society" through liberal, professional, and preprofessional education.
During his year at Santa Clara College, Brown had a reputation as a night owl, fond of staying up late, not to carouse, but to discuss philosophical questions with roommate Damrell, the former debate opponent. To continue their discussions past lights-out, the roommates tucked towels under the doors to block the light. Jerry continued to be a debater at Santa Clara, once participating in a debate where one of the judges was Marshall F. McComb, a justice on the state Supreme Court.
Despite the intellectual attractions and pleasant student life at Santa Clara, the desire to be a priest still burned in Jerry Brown. After a year at Santa Clara, on August 15, 1956, the now-eighteen-year-old Jerry entered a seminary to begin training as a Jesuit. The institution he chose was Sacred Heart Novitiate, founded in 1887 in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Los Gatos, a town some sixty miles south of San Francisco. Jerry was one of forty incoming novitiates, including two close friends-Peter Finnegan and Damrell-who drove down to Los Gatos together to enter the seminary. They entered on the day of the Feast of the Assumption, the traditional day that aspiring priests enter the seminary.
Young men studying to become Jesuit priests face a long process, as much as fifteen years. It required consistent, long-term dedication. The novitiates' studies included the classics, theology, languages, and literature (within limits). Some parts of Brown's new life were familiar. He had already been steeped in Jesuit education by the time he arrived at Sacred Heart, including his enrollment at the Jesuit Santa Clara College and his high school attendance at St. Ignatius, which was named after the Jesuits' founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius was a charismatic and devout Basque Spaniard of noble birth who experienced a religious epiphany after being wounded in battle. He founded the Jesuits-the Society of Jesus-in 1534. The order emphasizes rigorous religious education, intellectualism, obedience, poverty, and chastity, all of which were visited upon the young men at Sacred Heart. The Jesuits were also then interested in proselytizing, attempting to stop the spread of Protestantism. They were mobile in this proselytization, are of formidable intellect, and are dedicated; they have been referred to as "the Pope's Marines." They have also been accused of intellectual arrogance and having an unfeeling attitude toward fellow human beings, even while engaged in education and charitable works. Because the educational institutions they founded were at that time far superior to those otherwise available, Jesuits trained lawyers and public officials; their educational institutions have spread around the world. Jesuits came to California in 1849, when two Jesuit priests originally from Italy, Michael Accolti and John Nobili, arrived in San Francisco from Oregon.
Life as a seminarian was tough, especially for a young man raised in relatively affluent circumstances. Shortly after their arrival, novitiates at Sacred Heart began a thirty-day retreat designed to cleanse their minds of secular biases and ponder the meaning of Jesus. They were housed six to a room, and the room was austere, with no running water. The day began at 5 A.M. and was spent in meditation, learning Latin, attending Mass, doing kitchen chores and other housekeeping, and learning the rules of life laid down by the order. Other physical labor was also required at times. Sacred Heart's stately main structure is located in the midst of a vineyard, and the novitiates spent each October being hot, sweaty, and juice-stained, picking the grapes for the esteemed dessert wines of the Sacred Heart winery.
Novitiates spent their long days mostly in silence. No casual conversation was permitted. Parents or close relatives were allowed one two-hour Sunday visit per month and one letter per week. Except for what they learned through the visits and letters, novitiates knew little of what was occurring "outside," because newspapers, television and radio were forbidden. There was no smoking. Dates with women were out of the question. The Jesuits wanted no distractions or interference with the business of instilling their ideas in young heads. It was total immersion. Occasionally, Brown and his fellow novitiates engaged in a practice called "taking the discipline," which involved wrapping wire around a leg to produce discomfort that was thought to increase spiritual awareness and penitence. Brown on occasion wrapped the wire so tightly that he limped, according to fellow novitiates. Self-denial was daily preached and practiced.
Although a novitiate was severely constricted in reading material and outside influences, the inward life of the mind suited Jerry at that point in his life. He felt it gave him inner discipline, and he enjoyed the pure intellectual exercises involved in meditating on life's most important issues through the lens of the Jesuits. It instilled in him a certain amount of intellectual arrogance, a sternness, a liking for austerity, and a sense of righteousness (critics would say self-righteousness) that has manifested itself throughout his political career. Years later, as a member of the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees, as secretary of state, as governor, and as a mayor, he lectured fellow politicians, voters, and reporters on what was important. He has continued the practice in his third gubernatorial term, telling voters that they have to face up to "tough choices" and be realistic about what government can do.
Although he had taken his initial vows and been elevated to the "juniorate" level on the pathway to priesthood, by 1960 Jerry had become frustrated and grown tired of the limited life of a seminarian. He was restless, and his intellectual curiosity had begun to burst the boundaries of the Jesuits' rigorous, but constricted, educational outlook. Jerry had begun to question some of the Jesuits' teachings, including chastity and obedience to a set of unshakeable rules on how one should live one's life. He was unhappy with the Jesuit Province's decision to forbid Sacred Heart juniors from reading the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit intellectual Jerry admired who became internationally famous as a paleontologist but whose writings on science, especially cosmic history and evolution, disturbed the Vatican.
Along with his scientific studies, Teilhard de Chardin was an explorer of the spiritual. He told his admirers that they were not human beings in search of a spiritual experience; they were spiritual beings immersed in a human experience. And he instructed that our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability do not exist, adding that we are collaborators in creation. But the authorities in Rome distrusted Teilhard de Chardin and did not want young would-be priests exposed to what they thought could lead to an undermining of Catholic doctrine.
On one of the monthly visits of his parents, Jerry unburdened himself, declaring, "I sit here in poverty, but it isn't real poverty. I don't buy anything. I don't own anything, but I don't have to worry about it either. The mystical Three Degrees of Humility elude me, too. And chastity seems like just another form of detachment and separation. What's the point of being here?"
Jerry decided to leave Sacred Heart. He went through the necessary paperwork, giving up his Jesuit connection and its pathway to priesthood, and was placed in El Retiro, a sort of Jesuit halfway house where young men who wished to leave the seminary stayed briefly. He then hitched a ride home to Magellan Avenue with Mark McGuiness, a friend from Jerry's boyhood in San Francisco. At the end of his three and a half years at Sacred Heart, Jerry Brown emerged with two concurrent drivers in his life: first, the Jesuit-influenced approach to political and personal challenge, emphasizing intellectual rigor and personal austerity, and second, his previously developed idealism and desire to make the world a better place, even if that eventually involved doing the unconventional, as well as assiduous, study of what political ploy works best to influence voters.
James Straukamp, a former priest who was a teacher at St. Ignatius when Jerry was a student there, told Brown biographer Robert Pack that among Jesuits "there is a process, an attitude, an underlying approach to problem solving and people relationships that remains. Your will and mind are in control all the time, and therefore there is a danger of being too heady and not having enough heart. Oh, you're going to feel emotion, but I think that there is a mechanism that controls the external expression."
During his time of isolation, introspection, self-denial, and inward-looking intellectual exercise at Sacred Heart, Jerry had become the son of the governor, although it had made little difference in his daily life. Pat's campaign for governor came as he was nearing the conclusion of his second term as a popular attorney general, well poised to become the Democratic gubernatorial nominee. Then, on top of that, he was handed an opportunity politicians can only dream about. It came as a result of one of the most infamous instances of political bullying in California history.
The incumbent governor was Goodwin Knight, an affable, outgoing Republican who enjoyed his job. He had been lieutenant governor under Earl Warren and found himself in the governor's office in 1953, when Dwight Eisenhower rewarded Warren's support by appointing him chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Knight was elected governor on his own in 1954.
Knight's happy life as governor came to an end in 1958 because of the ambitions of U.S. senator William Knowland, who was also an assistant newspaper publisher of the Oakland Tribune, owned by his father. Knowland was the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate and one of the most powerful, best-known, and bullheaded politicians in the country. He harbored presidential ambitions and thought his chances would improve if he were the sitting governor of a large state such as California rather than one of many in the Senate. Knight stood in Knowland's way. Knight enjoyed his job and wanted to keep on being governor. But Knowland, aided by Richard Nixon and even President Eisenhower, convinced (some would say muscled) Knight to run for Knowland's Senate seat instead of another term as governor.
Pat took advantage of this gift from the political gods in the 1958 campaign, hammering at Knowland's stance on right-to-work, the big switch, and the disarray in Republican ranks caused by Knowland's ambition. He won the governorship easily, beating tone-deaf Knowland by more than a million votes. The jovial Knight lost his senatorial campaign by 10 percentage points to Clair Engle, a Democratic congressman from Red Bluff, a small agricultural community in the northern Sacramento Valley. Knowland committed suicide in 1974.
Immediately after Jerry Brown left Sacred Heart, he enrolled at the University of California's Berkeley campus as a second-semester junior majoring in the classics. He stayed at International House, on the campus, which was open to both American and foreign students. Two fellow lodgers were Rose Bird, whom Jerry would appoint as chief justice of the California Supreme Court, and Ken Reich, who later covered Brown as an able political reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Frank Damrell, who had left the seminary as well, also enrolled at Berkeley.
The big, bustling, sophisticated Berkeley campus, with students discovering 1960s folk music that spoke to social injustice, was a different universe from the quiet, austere Sacred Heart, but Brown retained his idealism. In coffeehouses near the campus, students talked about racial integration in the South, capital punishment, conditions for farmworkers, the merits of the Kingston Trio, and the morality of the atomic bomb. It was, again, a place where Jerry found satisfying intellectual discourse, but this time it was free and far-ranging, in contrast to that at Sacred Heart.
He became interested in the plight of California farm laborers and sought to improve conditions in California's fields, working with members of the Berkeley campus's Agricultural Organizing Committee and the Catholic Worker Movement. Jerry and a friend, Carl Werthman, volunteered to help take students to work in the fields on weekends to help pick strawberries near Stockton so that they would form an up-close idea of what farm labor was like. He spent additional time researching farm labor law. That interest was made concrete in 1975, when Brown, as governor, created the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.
However, what may have been Jerry's most direct demonstration of continued idealism, an issue that brought him into direct and heartfelt conflict with his father, was the case of Caryl Chessman. Chessman was a career criminal with a long record who was on parole when he was arrested near Los Angeles on suspicion that he was the notorious "Red Light Bandit" who used a red light on a car spotlight to deceive young couples into believing that a policeman was behind them. When they got out of their car, the bandit would rob them and rape the women. Chessman was convicted of seventeen assorted counts of robbery, kidnapping, and rape in July 1948 and sentenced to death. He repeatedly appealed his sentence over the twelve years he spent on San Quentin's death row and won worldwide fame from his cell as an author. Chessman sold the rights to his autobiography, Cell 2455, Death Row, to Columbia Pictures.
By early 1960, however, Chessman was reaching the end of his appeals. Pat Brown, an opponent of the death penalty, was his last chance. Chessman had not been accused of murdering anyone, but under California's "Little Lindberg" law, kidnapping with intent to inflict harm was a capital case. Forcing victims to move even a few feet constituted kidnapping under the law. Since Chessman was a man who hadn't killed anyone but still faced the death penalty, his case became a worldwide cause célèbre. Brown was deluged with appeals for clemency from, among many others, Billy Graham, Marlon Brando, William Buckley, Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury, Norman Mailer, Robert Frost, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
For Berkeley undergraduate Jerry Brown, Chessman's was a clear-cut moral case. He hadn't committed murder. The death penalty was a leftover from the Dark Ages. California was better than that. Jerry repeatedly appealed to his father to follow his conscience and grant clemency. Pat, tortured between his personal beliefs, the impassioned appeals of his son, and the demands of the law, listened, argued, and wavered. In the forlorn hope that the California Legislature would somehow act on his plea to abolish the death penalty or at least place a moratorium on it and erase his agonizing dilemma, he granted a sixty-day stay of execution in February 1960, hours before Chessman was due to enter the gas chamber. The stay ran out in April, the death penalty remained in effect, Pat Brown refused executive clemency, and after a few unsuccessful last-ditch appeals, Chessman was executed on May 2, 1960.
Jerry's opposition to the death penalty did not waver. In April 1967, seven years after Chessman's execution, Jerry was among those outside the gates of San Quentin Prison when Aaron Mitchell, screaming, "I am Jesus Christ!" was executed for killing a Sacramento policeman during a 1963 robbery. A year earlier, toward the end of his term, Pat Brown had refused to grant executive clemency. In 2011, as governor, Jerry Brown halted construction of a new, state-of-the-art, multimillion-dollar gas chamber at San Quentin. He cited budgetary concerns.
Although the Chessman case had harmed Pat Brown politically, causing him to be labeled a "tower of jello" because of his perceived indecisiveness, the damage did not prevent him from being a giant-killer two years later, when he defeated former vice president Richard Nixon by three hundred thousand votes to win a second term. Idealist Jerry flew home from Yale, where he was studying law, to engage in street-level politics, campaigning energetically for his father in the heavily black Hunter's Point area of San Francisco. Nixon was handicapped by an accurate perception that he would use the governorship as a steppingstone for another bid to become president.
The morning after the returns were in, an unshaven, pale Nixon held his famous "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore" news conference in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, in Beverly Hills. Nixon's pout and the fact that a former vice president had been defeated for a mere governorship, even if it was in a state the size of California, took some of the national media limelight off Pat. But he had won, and won convincingly.
Jerry Brown graduated from Berkeley with a bachelor of arts degree in classics in 1961. District Court of Appeals judge Matthew Tobriner, who had convinced Pat Brown to switch from a Republican to a Democrat nearly thirty years earlier, convinced Pat's son that he should attend Yale Law. Jerry set off for New Haven.
At the suggestion of his father, Jerry performed legal research in the Yale Law Library for Stephen Reinhardt, a Los Angeles attorney who had recently brought a legal action against Pierre Salinger, formerly President John Kennedy's and then Lyndon Johnson's press secretary. Salinger, a former reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle before he went to Washington, had been appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill the unexpired term of Democrat Engle, who had died of brain cancer. He then filed to run for a full six-year term. Even though Pat Brown had appointed Salinger to the Senate, Brown and Reinhardt opposed Salinger's candidacy and sought to derail it on the grounds that Salinger was not a legal resident of California. Salinger won the case, even with Jerry doing opposition legal research, defeated Alan Cranston in the Democratic primary, and went on to be defeated in 1964's general election by former MGM song-and-dance man George Murphy.
During his time at Yale, Jerry formed two other friendships-with former Louisiana seminarian Don Burns, a brilliant student who later became a member of his cabinet, and with also-brilliant Tony Kline, who became Jerry's legal adviser and a state appeals court judge.
Jerry did not go to Fort Lauderdale to frolic with girls in bikinis during Yale's spring break. Instead, he went to Mississippi to observe the struggles of those attempting to win civil rights for African Americans. He arrived in Jackson, talked with civil rights organizers, and dropped in unannounced to chat with Ross Barnett, the segregationist governor. Barnett, an unlikely friend of the senior Brown from governors' conferences, phoned Pat to tell him that Jerry was running around with the wrong sort of people. A few days later, Jerry returned to New Haven. "It got really heavy," Jerry told his father. "I was really nervous so I got out of there."
Jerry graduated from Yale in 1964, returned to California, and clerked for Matthew Tobriner, then a justice of the state Supreme Court who had been appointed to that court in 1962 by Pat. (Jerry breezed into the clerkship after getting his law degree but before passing the bar examination; he was, after all, the son of the governor.) Jerry confidently took the California bar exam, and flunked it. In Jerry's defense, the three-day California bar examination is generally regarded as one of the most difficult in the nation. Determined to pass the next time around, Brown hunkered down in the 1877-vintage, three-story, white Victorian governor's mansion in downtown Sacramento and studied. He passed on his second try, after taking a three-month refresher course at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.
Whether he was influenced by Yale, his rebellion against the severity of Sacred Heart, a resurgence of interest in secular intellectual pursuits, or, as is most likely, a combination of those factors, Jerry Brown after graduating from law school pointed his life in a direction that was new in locale but familiar in background-politics. The idealism remained, but gone was any desire for an official attachment to the Catholic Church. He decided to strike out afresh in a new political arena. He went to work at $640 a month for Tuttle Taylor, one of the more prestigious law firms in Los Angeles, located in the former 20th Century-Fox studio lot remade into the sleek Century City office area.
Tuttle Taylor was a firm that emphasized collegiality, relatively low billable hours, schedule flexibility, and high academic achievement among the attorneys it very selectively hired. The combination was ideal for a young man ready to explore options. But before taking the Tuttle Taylor job, the ever-restless, ever-inquiring Jerry Brown embarked on a six-month study tour of Latin America, which saw him stopping in Mexico City, Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, and Uruguay.
In 1969, not long after beginning the private practice of law at Tuttle Taylor in vote-rich Los Angeles, former Jesuit seminarian Jerry Brown entered what was to be his lifelong occupation-elective politics.
About the Book
“As thoughtful and concise an assessment of this enigma [Jerry Brown] as we're likely to get for a long time.”—Peter Schrag Sacramento Bee
"This examination of the qualities behind Brown’s longevity . . . is valuable reading for Californians and non-Californians as the nation finds itself a prisoner of conventional politics, stale thinking and tedious political rhetoric."—Bill Boyarsky Truthdig
“An insightful look at a paradoxical political figure in the nation’s most populous and politically influential state.”—Booklist
"While McFadden’s 180 pages would need to be tripled in length to cover Brown’s long career, I have read two other Brown bios and Trailblazer is now the best work available."—Randy Shaw BeyondChron“While the details of the governor’s life and career are well known, this book is an invaluable addition to what has been written about him. McFadden’s account of his lifelong intellectual and spiritual growth is detailed and perceptive. As the author points out, this combination of the intellectual, spiritual and political has shaped Brown’s life and explains the contradictions that have long intrigued America.”—Bill Boyarsky, author of Ronald Reagan, His Life and Rise to the Presidency
"A thoughtful and enlightening contribution to the literature on one of California's "most idiosyncratic politicians," this book perceptively analyzes the tensions between the spiritual and the pragmatic that have shaped Jerry Brown's approach to, and philosophy of, governance and politics. McFadden vibrantly and accurately portrays the parallel evolution of California's "new/old governor" and the political system which defines him and which he helped define."—Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Sol Price School of Public Policy
“If you still wonder if Jerry Brown was born on another planet, Chuck McFadden will set you straight, firmly grounding this political enigma in California’s peculiar, 20th century realities."—Joe Mathews, California editor, Zócalo Public Square
"What makes Jerry run? Trailblazer offers a new generation of Californians a fresh and up-to-date look at the many lives, campaigns, and contradictions of their once-was and now-again governor, Jerry Brown—reckless and cautious, spiritual and pragmatic, reformer and status-quo stalwart—in all their chameleon glory."—Mark Paul, co-author, California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Comeback Codger
1. Early Years: Politics and Religion
2. Going Statewide: Learning the Ropes and Hunting Headlines
3. The Big Show
4. Romance, Flip-Flops, and Moonbeams
5. Back and Forth: Zen and Politics
6. The Governor-Turned-Mayor and Marriage
7. The Remarkable Election
8. Difficult Choices
Appendix 1: Three Inaugural Addresses
Appendix 2: Author’s Note on California’s Constitution: Bigger, but Not Necessarily Better