California puts Jerry Brown back in governor seat

SAN FRANCISCO Wed Nov 3, 2010 5:20am EDT

1 of 3. California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown gestures during a campaign rally ahead of Tuesday's election in Oakland, California November 1, 2010. At right is California Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who is seeking reelection.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Californians desperate to fix their battered economy brought back Democrat Jerry Brown as governor on Tuesday, a bet on the experience of the 72-year-old who ran the state three decades ago over the fresh take of billionaire businesswoman Meg Whitman.

Senator Barbara Boxer won re-election in a tough race, beating former Hewlett-Packard Co Chief Executive Carly Fiorina to mark a double victory for Democrats over Republican newcomers from Silicon Valley.

California's embrace of veteran Democrats stood in sharp contrast to the national trend of throwing out incumbents and voting in Republicans, who took control of the U.S. House of Representatives and gained Senate seats.

Voters in California also rejected two ballot measures with national implications -- one to legalize marijuana and another to suspend the state's climate change law.

Whitman, a former eBay chief executive running for office for the first time, spent at least $160 million, including more than $140 million of her own fortune. But polls showed swing constituencies, including women and Latinos, moved hard against her in the end.

"There's an old Beatles song and it says 'Money can't buy me love.' And in California it can't buy you an election either," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat.

Deeply unpopular Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger could not run for re-election because of term limits.

Brown sought to make Whitman look like Schwarzenegger 2.0 -- another newcomer ill equipped to navigate the tricky waters of Sacramento, the state capital. That struck a nerve with some voters.

BUDGET PROMISES

"Jerry Brown in general has a better sense of what needs to be done to make government work because -- let's face facts -- he's got a history of doing that, whereas Arnold Schwarzenegger never did and I don't think Meg Whitman ever will," said lawyer Donald Hilla, 43.

The rejection of Proposition 23, the challenge to the state's climate change law, was a boost for alternative energy and clean technology industries. Californians approved simpler rules to pass the state budget and put a citizen commission in charge of drawing more voting districts.

That is good news for Brown, who promised to push for green jobs and to reinvent the budget process, widely seen as a disaster that has only papered over a $20 billion deficit.

With double-digit unemployment and lingering housing crisis, a majority of Californians think the country's most populous state is heading in the wrong direction, with a deep divide between coastal liberals and conservatives in the interior.

Brown has promised to make a quick start later this month by bringing together legislators before he takes office to hammer out a spending plan.

But the degree of rancor is difficult to gauge. As Whitman conceded, boos almost drowned out her call for the state to come together under Brown.

The Tea Party flank of the Republican Party is alive in California, too.

"We're angry at all Republican incumbents because they've been in the car that's heading off the cliff and they could have and should have done more," Marc Harris, a real estate developer who is an Orange County coordinator with the Tea Party Patriots.

Brown claimed victory with the irreverence that is a hallmark of his style.

"They haven't got all the votes in yet but, hell, it's good enough for government work. Looks like we are going back," he said, promising creativity, energy and a first lady for the state.

The last time "Governor Moonbeam" was in charge of California, he was dating singer Linda Ronstadt.

(Additional reporting by Noel Randewich, Dan Whitcomb, Sarah McBride and Jim Christe; Editing by Mary Milliken and John O'Callaghan)