OAKLAND, California (Reuters) - Jerry Brown wants to be the insider’s outsider, and he is using Meg Whitman to help him make the case in the race to be governor of California -- for a third term.
With $14 million in the bank, well-funded allies, two terms as governor starting in 1975, and no serious rivals for the June Democratic primary, his credentials shout establishment.
But his likely Republican opponent Whitman, the billionaire former chief executive officer of eBay, has blanketed the airwaves with commercials and given her campaign tens of millions of dollars, letting the man with four decades in politics portray himself as a poor underdog.
The election for governor of the most populous U.S. state is in November, and primaries are still more than two months away, but polls suggest it will be Brown against Whitman.
Currently California attorney general, Brown, 71, was governor of the state before term limits were passed and so is able to run again. He has also been mayor of the San Francisco Bay Area city of Oakland, and held myriad other offices.
When will his stealth mode candidacy, with no TV ads yet, move into full swing? “Whenever we can afford it,” he said in an interview over the weekend in a low-profile warehouse near Oakland’s waterfront.
Brown’s unpredictable nature lends itself to the outsider role. In the interview, he quoted Latin and stopped to tell staff how to fix a printer jam. When he was first governor he opted not to live in the governor’s mansion.
His campaign has more Facebook fans than Whitman’s (17,164 to 13,796 on Sunday, not including Whitman’s additional personal trove of 4,444 friends) in a sign of the enduring fascination with the former governor who dated singer Linda Ronstadt.
Whitman also lets Brown play up his insider status. “It helps to have done it before. There’s nothing so different from acting as governor than being a CEO,” he said.
The economy is the top issue in the state and there has been little sign of progress this year toward closing a $20 billion budget hole. Tax increases and substantial spending cuts both are politically impossible, Brown said.
His plan for success is “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” of hours of work and talks with the legislature -- and a popular vote if legislators cannot find a solution.
Brown did not say what proposals he would back to cut the budget or fill the state’s underfunded pension system.
“A number of the critics will not say what they want less of. You have to decide do you want less road repair, less university teaching, less incarceration, less medical services for people, or, you have to find other revenues,” he said.
Asked to answer the dilemma he outlined, he responded, “That’s not my - that is a process. The governor is not a dictator, he’s not a CEO. If you are a CEO of a business, you make the decisions, and people follow them. You fire people who get in your way. In the legislature, they are elected by the people ... So what is needed is the leadership to forge consensus.”
Eventually he expects California to grow its way out of the mess, as the economy turns around. The key then will be to avoid raising spending at a breakneck pace, he said. California has had difficulty avoiding that in the past.
Editing by Mohammad Zargham