Saturday, April 21, 2007

Pat Brown

Pat Brown, Democratic governor of California, father of Jerry Brown, was born Edmund G. Brown on this day in 1905 in San Francisco, California.

Nicknamed for American patriot Patrick Henry (whom Brown is said to have quoted often as a boy), Pat Brown worked his way through evening law school and entered the bar in 1927. He entered the political arena almost immediately, running unsuccessfully for a California state assembly seat as a Republican from the San Francisco area in 1929. Switching to the Democratic Party, he was elected district attorney of San Francisco on his second try in 1942, was elected attorney general of California in 1950, and in 1958 became only the second Democratic governor of California since the 19th century.

A folksy, gregarious Catholic liberal who enjoyed the benefits of a Democratic majority in the state legislature, Brown's policies led to the expansion of the California school and highway systems, and to the irrigation of portions of the California desert. Although he was morally opposed to the death penalty, he enforced it on several occasions as governor -- including with respect to robber/rapist/autobiographer Caryl Chessman.

In 1960 he was briefly considered to be a "favorite son" candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, and he angered John F. Kennedy partisans by being too slow to support Kennedy for the nomination; once he did throw his support to Kennedy, many of his California delegates ended up voting for Adlai Stevenson for the nomination. Brown was re-elected in 1962 in a heated battle against ex-Vice President and former presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon by about 300,000 votes. In both 1960 and 1964 he was mentioned as a possible vice-presidential nominee, but publicly took his name out of contention, explaining that "Being Governor of California is more important than sitting and waiting for a President to die."

Brown's second term saw an increase in public unrest, including anti-Vietnam War protests and the violent Watts riots in 1965, and by 1966 when he faced Ronald Reagan in his bid for a third term, his popularity had gone into sharp decline. Brown's impolitic mocking of Reagan during the campaign certainly didn't help, as he rather notoriously quipped, "I'm running against an actor, and you know who shot Lincoln, don't cha?" Brown lost to Reagan, 58% to 42%.

Pat Brown died on February 16, 1996.

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