"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
This week's newsmaker is Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, former California governor and current candidate for state Attorney General in the June 6 Democratic Primary election. Questions are paraphrased; answers are presented in full.
Signal: You're 40 points up on your Democratic opponent, Rocky Delgadillo. You're a pop culture icon in a heavily Democratic state. The odds are better than even that you will be California's next attorney general. What are your priorities? What do you want to change?
Brown: First of all, I want to come to Santa Clarita and get some Republican votes, I hope. Or at least some independents. And I want people to really give me a hearing, because I am going to bring a very fresh, independent view.
What do I want to do? What do I want to change?
No. 1, I want to change the fact that every attorney general since the 1930s has been elected because he wanted to be governor. I'm the only one who was already governor. So "A.G." for me doesn't mean "Aspiring Governor." It means, roll up my sleeves, get down to work, and take care of business whether it's suing an Enron before it rips us off for billions of dollars, or getting back at gravel companies that throw pollution into the environment, or getting after the parole system that is wreaking havoc on the community.
I want to be a hands-on chief lawyer the lawyer to the governor, the lawyer to the Department of Air Resources, the lawyer to the Medical Quality (Assurance) Board, insurance, consumer affairs whatever it is, the attorney general provides the legal advice. Law as Oliver Wendell Holmes, our greatest justice, said it's not just logic, but it's history. He said, "(A page of history is worth a volume of logic)."
I've had a lot of history. I've been around. My father was governor; he was attorney general. I have known every attorney general since Earl Warren. I come at this job well qualified, ready to go, and I am going to be full-time, doing the work of making sense out of our laws not being oppressive, because these laws can bog down in litigation and get nowhere. Just paper. As mayor I learned, "get it done."
What I am going to do different? I'm going to be a "get it done," practical, common-sense attorney general, being the lawyer for the people.
Signal: You've been governor. You ran for president. Many people have asked, why not quit while you're on top? You went down to be Oakland mayor, now you're kind of stepping down again to be attorney general. What's that about?
Brown: Why did Picasso paint? What you do, you like to do. People asked me that same question when I ran for mayor. I will tell you, the last 7-1/2 years have been the best years of my life. I've really have learned a lot. I've learned a lot about criminals. I've learned a lot about police. I've learned a lot about builders. I've learned a lot about planners. I've learned a lot about NIMBYs, neighborhood activists who try to block everything.
So what I've done now is I have the theory of governor, of candidate, at a high office; but now I have got the practicality of actually running an organization. Oakland is a $1 billion corporation with over 4,000 employees. I've have had to hire and I've have had to fire. That gives me a real understanding of the practicality of government agencies.
So I'm going to be able to advise on the law not as an abstraction, but as a piece of practical advice to those whom I'm offering advice to.
Signal: You've said and done a lot of things in 40 years of public life. People are throwing all sorts of stuff at you. Your eventual Republican opponent, Sen. Chuck Poochigian, is throwing Oakland's crime rate at you and we aren't even into the general election cycle yet. Delgadillo says you cut police services. What's the truth?
Brown: The truth is that the violence in Fresno, where my opponent is from, Mr. Poochigian, went up 13 percent. Now, that's just a fact. But I am not saying that, because that is not really the point
Signal: Why did your murder rate go up?
Brown: My murder rate is down by 34 percent (for) my first seven years versus the first seven years of my predecessor. Let me be precise, because sometimes people play with numbers. In my predecessor's first seven years, there were over 900 murders. Since I have been there, there have been 600. That's 300 fewer dead bodies. That's real.
Is there a lot of crime? Sure, there is a lot of crime. We have 3,000 parolees. We have 13,000 felons on probation. They are barely supervised. Every week, there are another 50 or 100 coming into the city with $200, no skills, angry, ready to do their business, which is not legal. It's called crime. And I know about that stuff. I have no illusions about people who commit crimes any more. I know the score. And as attorney general I'll be very practical. I'll support local law enforcement. I'll use our technology, our DNA, our fingerprint, our whole criminal apparatus there, to help local government fight crime. Because it is a local government job.
When people talk about there is crime. There is crime in Fresno. There is crime in L.A. There's a certain underground in our society that is dangerous, that is anti-social, and we've got to keep them in check. We need these programs of rehabilitation. We ought to be training people in prison, giving them literacy skills, getting off their drug addiction. But at the end of the day, if you don't keep the pressure on, at the street level, they will get out of hand. They will rob, they'll burglarize, they'll rape and they'll steal and they'll carjack.
I know that, because I live in a neighborhood with hundreds of felons. I don't live behind protected walls like my opponents, or in nice neighborhoods. I live downtown in a heavily impacted area, that I am transforming. And it is a miracle that 10,000 people have come, or are about to come, and live in downtown Oakland because of our building program.
And that's basically my case. I know how to get it done. I have a record. Yes, you can go back and pick up statements of mine, or things that you didn't like. But overall, integrity, intelligence, dedication to the job and as the next attorney general, I will be full-time as the lawyer for the people.
Signal: OK, but what about the ultimate penalty for the most vicious killers? You appointed Rose Bird in 1977 to head the California Supreme Court, and she effectively overturned the death penalty. Where are you on the death penalty?
Brown: I am for carrying out the death penalty. I'm the lawyer for the people. The criminal who murdered somebody has his own lawyer. For our system to work, both sides have a lawyer, plaintiff and defendant, and then the judge and the jury make up their mind. After that case is tried, which is done by the local district attorney, then it goes up on appeal after years and years, by the way and then it finally gets to the Supreme Court. I will supervise the deputies in the attorney general's office, defending capital punishment. I will do it.
I want to make this point very clear. Since I left office in fact, since my father left office let's go back to 1966. There have only been 13 executions (in California), OK? You can't blame that on Rose Bird. Can't blame it on me, (George) Deukmejian, (Pete) Wilson, Gray Davis and Schwarzenegger, had they been there.
Go back to my father, Pat Brown. He was there only eight years. He executed 35 individuals. He also gave a lot of clemencies. Since that time, the (California) Supreme Court, under people appointed by Democrats and Republicans, has overturned many death penalties, OK? In fact, Ronald Reagan appointed Don Wright as chief justice, and he overturned the death penalty over 100 times.
The law is moving slowly. There are a lot of reasons for this. But one thing you can be sure of: As attorney general, I will fight for the people. The people have said they want the death penalty, the Supreme Court for the last 25 years has upheld the principle of the death penalty, and I'll be there fighting for what the people want.
Signal: Do you personally support the death penalty?
Brown: No. I don't think it's the best way to go. I'll tell you why.
First of all, we've had 80,000 murders since my father left office. We've had 13 executions. We've spent hundreds of millions of dollars, and I don't think it's the most effective way to go. Thirteen states agree with me. Many nations agree with me.
But that's not my decision. I'm not running for governor. I'm not running for the Legislature. I'm running for the lawyer for the people. And whether it's gay marriage, which is not legal; whether it's the death penalty or some other law, I'm not the lawmaker. I'm running to be the advocate for what the law is.
Signal: Here's the thing. Today in California a federal judge has effectively suspended the death penalty by ruling that the way we administer lethal injections is cruel and unusual. There's a hearing set for September. Our current attorney general, Bill Lockyer, is fighting to uphold the death penalty. If you don't personally support the death penalty if you were to sit back and do nothing (to fight the ruling), the death penalty would be gone in California.
Brown: No. That's not true. Because you have whole civil servant groups and they would all revolt. I already met with them. I've assured them 100 percent of my support.
Let's take another example. I fought no one fought harder against Proposition 13 in June of Â78. When it became the law. I said, OK, the people spoke. I'm going to make it work. I implemented 13 so well with the $7 billion state surplus which I had accumulated, that Howard Jarvis, the author of 13, endorsed me against the Republican attorney general, Evelle Younger. I won by 20 points. The people ratified my embrace and support of Proposition 13 to implement it.
Same thing (with) the death penalty. I vetoed the death penalty law. The Legislature overrode me. The people then enacted another death penalty, so we have two of them. And that has been upheld not once but dozens of times in supreme courts by judges I appointed, and by judges appointed by all the subsequent governors.
That's the law. I am totally committed to respect for the law, enforcing the law. As Abraham Lincoln said, the law is my religion. That's the civil religion in our country: respect for the rule of law. That is our basis of all our other rights. If you lose that, you lose everything. And I can guarantee you that I will be the most vigorous advocate for the laws of California, including capital punishment.
Signal: You noted that there's a big difference between being governor and actually running a city. Do you think your experience running Oakland puts you in a better position to do a better job as attorney general than you did as governor?
Brown: Without question.
Signal: How do you rate yourself as governor?
Brown: I rate myself pretty good, as a matter of fact. I created the California Conservation Corps 60,000 kids, boys and girls, have gone through the Conservation Corps, learning discipline, learning commitment to the community, to the environment, and we're going to have our 30-year anniversary in July. I am very proud of that.
I am also very proud that California became the most efficient energy state in the country because of the building standards that my Energy Commission adopted, because of appliance standards, because of the alternative energy. California became the world leader in wind-generated electricity. And then they kind of forgot about it.
I also brought the first women into government into the courts, into agency secretaries, into the departments. I am proud of that. Yeah, some people didn't like Rose Bird. Did they like the fact that I didn't raise taxes? That I indexed the income tax to lower people's income taxes? I helped get rid of the inheritance tax. I signed the bill to get rid of inventory tax. I vetoed the tax on beer and wine. There are so many things I did, I can't even remember them. It's 25 years ago.
I supported in 1978, during the summer, I said we need a limit on state spending. It's called the Gann limit. I supported that during my campaign in Â78. And then later, in Proposition 98, they lifted those limits that I had supported.
Oh, by the way, in terms of incarceration, I increased and people looking at this may say, wait a minute, is this true? Look at the record. I increased not I did, but the judges and the laws as I was governor increased, in the first seven years I was governor, by 100 percent the number of people going to prison instead of going to jail with subsequent probation.
So there's a lot of things. But having said all that, yeah, you can find some mistakes and things I said and did that I wouldn't agree with today. But now I'm older. I'm 68. I'm on Medicare. I'm married now. First time. My wife we had our first marriage together June 18. I'm learning. I'm learning a lot of things. Maybe I learned them late, but as the mayor of a tough city, a city with a blighted downtown, a city with a high murder rate, a high crime rate, almost no private investment we now have a revitalized downtown, 10,000 people moved down there, the crime rate has been brought down by a third and I've have had to deal with people. I had to fire the planning director because (there was) too much red tape. I fired the city manager. He wanted to put in a ball park with a big subsidy. I didn't want to do that. I wanted to put in housing. I wanted the private sector to function there. I had to fight some of my old allies and some of my old friends there, who said, "Gee, is Brown for development?" When you have blight and you've got crime, you want private capital to spend by the billions to transform an area. That's what I did.
So I understand as a CEO, a chief executive officer, how to run an organization with all the conflicts that you have to overcome. My opponent in the Republican primary have never run anything. He's been a legislator. He's been a staffer in government. He's been in government most of his life, and he worked in a law firm. I've worked in a law firm. That is not the same as running a business.
Signal: And there certainly is a lot of history for him to throw at you. Probably everybody over 40 has an idea of who Jerry Brown is.
Brown: At least they know who I am.
Signal: Is that going to come around and bite you, going into the general election?
Signal: Do people know who Jerry Brown is?
Brown: Yeah, a lot of people do. A lot of people do. You have a record with me. You're not taking a risk. We don't know much about some of these other fellows. They are far more obscure. I have a record. They are going to hammer me on the same old story; they are going to try to bring up crime as though as I'm not going to be tough on crime.
The Police Chiefs of California interviewed Poochigian, interviewed Delgadillo, and they endorsed me. Almost unanimously. The police organizations in Oakland, the (Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs), the Los Angeles deputy district attorneys they have supported me because they know I know. See, I'm not perfect. I've got a few warts. My hair has virtually disappeared. I am a little heavier. But I've learned stuff. I've really got an experience to draw upon, and I think that's very valuable in a prosecutor and a lawyer. When do you sue? When do you settle? How do you get into the meat and potatoes of these lawsuits? I have that practical knowledge. I can do it quickly, and I think when people look for their lawyer, I think when they weigh the pros and cons and there are certainly going to be cons but I think on balance, clearly I'm the kind of a guy you'd want to hire as your advocate, fighting for you.
I think that's what the police chiefs told themselves. Yes, most of them are Republicans. Why didn't they pick Poochigian? Well, I think they picked me because they thought I would be one hell of an advocate for law enforcement. Which I will be.
Signal: Poochigian will be throwing everything he has at you. Will we see Jerry Brown on the defensive for six months? Or are you going to fire back? Is this going to be a down and dirty, nasty campaign?
Brown: Well, I hope we can elevate it. I'm certainly going to speak to the issues. I will answer, certainly, and there are issues that my opponents will have to answer for. But I believe I've got a story. I believe I have a record. And there are some things they can't question. They can't question my education. They can't question my intelligence. They can't question integrity. Now, they will question some of my many comments. If you go to Google, you will literally find millions of entries. If you type in my opponent's name, if you can even remember it, you're going to find very few entries.
So obviously. I've lived more. I've done more. If you never take a risk, if you never make a mistake, that doesn't mean you really come up with something great. The people who did stuff, they got into trouble. Patton. Patton got into trouble. But he also helped beat the Germans, beat the Nazis. You've got to be willing to fight.
When you're dealing with criminals even in Oakland, my first couple of years, we had some of the cops who went and took some of these criminals and allegedly beat them up. So we've been sued, and now we're under court monitoring and all the rest. But the cops have got to fight people, and when they're wrong, we correct them.
What I'm trying to say is, when you have a tough job, you need a tough guy, and tough guys don't come like Boy Scout leaders. They've got some warts. They've got some scars. They've taken some hits. That's true of me. But I'm ready to fight for the people of the state against whether it be the president you know, I'm not the president's boy like my opponent. He's Bush-Poochigian. The two are like inseparable. He was (Bush's) county campaign manager.
But by the way, I'm not owned by the Democrats. I quit the Democratic Party
Signal: Right. Are you going to be able to get Democratic Party money and support this time around? Because you broke from the Democratic Party and ran for president as an independent
Brown: I did. I ran against Bill Clinton. There's nobody more popular in my party.
Signal: And now, attorney general is about the only race where the California Democratic Party didn't make an endorsement.
Brown: It didn't endorse.
Signal: So are you counting on
Brown: I got 58 percent. That's pretty good. That's not chopped liver, 58 percent. It takes 60 percent (to win the CDP endorsement).
But look at the polls. The Democrats support me. I mean, there is an affinity. But I feel very independent in my thoughts. The Republicans (say): "Free enterprise," "Let's get practical here," "Political correctness has gone very far." And then the Democrats: "Hey, don't let the big guys take over." "Don't let the Enrons, with their money and their power; don't let the oil companies do things to us." So I think we've got to steer a course of intelligence and thought and common sense. And that is neither party.
Both of these parties spend most of their time fighting in Congress, in Sacramento, and I think the further away from that (you are), the better attorney general you can be.
Signal: Why are you running as a Democrat? You think you couldn't win as an independent?
Signal: Yeah what?
Brown: Yeah, you couldn't. Because 80 percent of the people are going to vote for one party or the other.
This whole election is only open to about 20-25 percent of the people. Most of the Democrats and most of the Republicans will vote the party label. Then the other 15 to 20 or 25 percent, they are the ones who are going to think, "well, maybe I'll go this way," "maybe Ill go that way." That's where the election is.
Also, my father was a Democrat although I have to tell you, my father started as a Republican. My grandfather was a Republican, and then my father until 1934. Roosevelt was two years in the presidency before my father switched. Ronald Reagan, by the way, was brought up a Democrat, and he switched around I think 1960 or thereabouts.
It's a fact that a lot of people in our history have been one party and then the other, and people started out liberal, they end up kind of conservative. Some people look at Barry Goldwater. Barry Goldwater was a big supporter of choice. He was a pretty practical guy. And a lot of the religious right got mad at him. You have John McCain, who has some independent perspective.
I think Americans like people to be their own man, to be their own person. And that, I think, you can count on that with me.
Signal: Let's touch a couple of hot buttons. Do we have an illegal immigration crisis?
Brown: Well, we've got a big problem. I'll tell you one thing we've got: We have 30,000 felons that we're paying for that are not citizens.
Signal: So what could you, as attorney general do about it?
Brown: I think we ought to have some kind of treaty with Mexico and El Salvador, and Russia, and wherever these people are from, that they should be in their own country. That's something we can do right off the (bat). We can't do it as attorney general, but I'm assuming that's something that we can look into.
Secondly, we're finding people in the streets of Oakland who are gang members that have committed felonies and they are undocumented. We need to send those people right back. What are they doing here?
And then thirdly, we do have this constant influx of people, and a society can only function with a certain loyalty and ðI don't want to say "homogeneous" quality, but we've got to be one, as a people, to be strong.
Now, we do welcome we're a country of immigrants. My great-great-grandparents were immigrants. Most people's are. Or were, rather. We've got some pretty good ideas there in Congress. I think McCain and the Senate are more on the track; certainly I don't agree with the House of Representatives. And I think we've got to secure the border. We've got to find out how we deal with people who come here to work in a legal way. And we have to find a way people can earn citizenship. There is no one way. This is a difficult issue. But certainly as attorney general, I intend to enforce the law fairly, without fear or favor.
Signal: Speaking of incarceration, right up the road here in Castaic we've got the biggest jail in Los Angeles County. It's bursting at the seams. Several months ago there were riots. One problem was that there were state prisoners who weren't being transitioned out of it quickly enough. What are your ideas for dealing with our burgeoning prison population?
Brown: I've criticized before and I'm sure they will throw this back at me I've said, boy, we've got the biggest prison system in the world.
I say today: There are not enough people from Oakland inside prison. I have no doubt about that. There are people on the streets of Oakland that I want to see locked up for a good, long time.
But here's the problem. We've only got so much room. So what we do? I am going to be testing a program in Oakland to monitor people on probation and parole. I've got a cooperative agreement. Twenty-four-hour GIS. That's the Geographic Information Systems. So we can measure exactly where they are. They put a little bracelet on their foot, and they can't move without us knowing about it. Put them on night curfew; anytime there is any trouble, we know exactly where they are. We need greater surveillance of the people coming out of prison. Eighty thousand people are pushed out of the prisons every year, and then 60 or 70 percent of them go back.
The state of California is failing to do its duty to protect the citizens against parolees who commit these crimes. And that's obvious. How do you have a recidivism rate of 60 percent without having people commit crimes? Well, obviously. So you let them out, knowing that you're going to have a 60 percent error rate. And that's bad.
I think we have to use technology to keep control of these people. And the ones we think we can try with, we can let them out but surveil them. We need more parolees, we need more reentry programs, we've got to put these people to work whenever possible. And when they sit in these jails and in the prisons, they should be doing something. Idleness as my nuns told me, "Idleness is the devil's workshop." And I'll tell you, the devil has a lot of workshops in the prisons of California. That's something I'm going to work to change.
Signal: The last time you were on the "Newsmaker" show 18 months ago, you were arguing against any changes to three strikes. Isn't one of the problems that we've got all these pizza thieves locked up in prisons for life?
Brown: No. That's a big myth. That is a big myth. First of all, some of these people who steal pizzas have murdered people, have molested little children, have lived a life of crime. So remember Eliot Ness. Wasn't he the guy who got Al Capone? They got him, but they didn't get him on murder. They got him on income tax evasion. If they could have gotten Al Capone for stealing a pizza, I say I'm all for it. That's what three strikes is all about.
Unlike when three strikes was adopted, when it had no discretion pizza, third strike, life now the judge, if he thinks this is unjust, he can disallow the first strike and therefore you only have two strikes. So we have the flexibility. And in fact, the number of people getting life under three strikes has gone down from 1,200 a year to something like 400 to 450. So the judges are already adjusting to the facts of the case.
Signal: Here locally, the city of Santa Clarita has been fighting the federal government over a planned sand and gravel mine to be operated by the Mexican conglomerate, Cemex. At 78 million tons over 20 years, it's the single biggest gravel mining approval in U.S. history. The city went to court over it, and there's still an active environmental lawsuit out there. At one point the city asked then-Gov. Gray Davis and Attorney General Bill Lockyer to step in. Lockyer filed an amicus brief, but that's about as far as it went a piece of paper. What would it take to get Attorney General Jerry Brown to step into this fight and really take on the federal government over the issues which are the effects on our air, our traffic and our water supply?
Brown: It would only take one thing: my being convinced that there is a serious set of issues regarding the air, the traffic and the water supply. If I thought that, I will fight like hell to defend the people of this area. And I'm not beholden to the White House. The White House is actually the (political) party of the other side. I never was the campaign manager for the president or his vice president or any of his minions. So I have the freedom to take action.
I first would have to convince myself that there is a serious issue. You just don't use the powers of attorney general without being very clear that you've got the evidence on your side. But I would, with pleasure and with enthusiasm, jump into local battles where serious issues are at stake and it's the federal government and foreign entities that are affecting the quality of life.
That is what people could count on from me: fearlessly to defend the rights of people to have a quality of life, clean air, clean water, and as best we can, get along our freeways without getting shoved off by some big gravel truck.
Signal: You can probably expect to be barraged with letters from folks at City Hall who are watching you right now.
Brown: Well, I hope the barrage me. Send it to the City Hall of Oakland and I will look into this. Because, remember. The other people running for attorney general, they have already told their closest advisors they want to be governor. You know from this governor's campaign that you need $50 million, at least, to be governor. If you need $50 million and you've got a four-year term, that's four times 12 months, is 48 months; that means you have to raise $1 million every month for you to be a credible candidate for governor.
I'm not going to do that. I can spend full time worrying about gravel pits in Santa Clarita and not having to worry about fundraisers in Beverly Hills. And if there's no other reason, that's the one that even Republicans should be voting for me for this office.
Signal: You were governor from 1975 to 1983; term limits didn't apply then. Are you saying we're not going to see Jerry Brown run for governor in 2010 or 2014 or whenever it opens up?
Brown: Nope. Because I'm not going to spend my time raising money. I've already been there, and I believe it's time now we've had 20,000 additional laws since I left Sacramento. We really have enough laws. I would like to enforce with thought, with care and with fidelity the laws we have.
That's a powerful responsibility. Very important. And I think, more than anyone else, I'm qualified to do that. I've got the energy. I've got the desire. I want to do it. And that's what I'm presenting to the people of California.
Signal: You're committed to staying as attorney general for a full eight years?
Brown: Eight years? I've only got a four-year term. If you'll give me eight years we've got to do the four first, and then we'll see after that.
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.