Brown, Whitman, & Leadership

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Not too far into Wednesday morning's question and answer session with Jerry Brown, it became clear to me that the first of many differences in the looming gubernatorial battle is the implicit message both he and Meg Whitman are putting out on an essential element of governing: leadership style.

And it's something on which there seems to be a sharp contrast worth considering.

Leadership is no doubt an important part of the job, but it's hard to define. Every governor sees their role differently, and uses different doses of compromise and confrontation to get the job done.

But in the Brown-Whitman contest, the voters will be asked to weigh whether a governor is there to implement a specific plan, or help foster compromise.

Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Count Whitman in the category of having a plan and making it happen. "It's time for a different style of leadership," she said in her remarks Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

The candidate and her campaign team have long touted her glossy booklet of policy pronouncements -- some fairly specific, some that leave you wanting more details. The former CEO also has been outspoken about how she sees the role of the governor vis-a-vis the Legislature.

"I will consistently use the veto pen to try to get this Legislature focused on the things that really make a difference to California," she said back in March.

Whitman also has said she wants to organize legislators into "teams" to help carry out her three big policy objectives -- creating jobs, cutting government spending, and fixing the state's education system. The "teams" comment has been criticized a bit, and all of her comments regarding the large, loud, but nonetheless coequal branch of government do seem to conjure up the infamous 1999 comment from then governor Gray Davis that the Legislature was there to "implement my vision."

The Republican nominee's approach toward governing would no doubt be deeply influenced by her experience as a CEO. And so when Jerry Brown challenged her to a series of ten town hall style debates Wednesday, Whitman's quick reply was to accuse him of not having a vision.

"He should lay out his plan for California," she told reporters in Irvine. "You know, his website has virtually nothing on it. I have put out a 48 page policy book that details the plan I have for to turn around California."

Brown's reply, at the aforementioned event at the old-school Los Angeles Athletic Club?

"It’s very easy to put out a pamphlet and make a promise," he said. "It's another thing to roll up your sleeves, and confront your allies and your adversaries, and deal with this in an honest and responsible way."

John MyersBrown was asked several times -- mostly by yours truly -- about whether he would, in fact, issue a lengthy list of proposals to solve the state's fiscal woes. Granted, there's a political calculus going on here. The longer he can avoid such specifics, the longer he avoids any kind of campaign issue -- other than his lengthy career -- with which Team Whitman can attack him.

But his answers on the issue also hinted at a different approach to what he thinks is missing here in Sacramento: collaboration. Brown said his mission would be to immediately bring in legislators after the November election and "doing everything I can to tee up the tough choices."

"The real question," he later said, "is who do you believe has the integrity, the intelligence, and the skill to grapple with this problem?"

The general election campaign is just beginning, so expect an awful lot more layers to this narrative to come. But for now, an interesting contrast exists between the CEO with some details and some desire for control... versus the long-time elected official who says the process may be just as important as the policies.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • pacifica1

    The governorship is not for sale. And someone who couldn’t even be bothered to carry out the simplest act in our democracy, to vote, now wants to run California, Inc.? Whitman did not vote for 28 years. In all those decades, there were innumerable issues of great importance to our society to vote on, but she was AWOL. Then, she doesn’t even know how long she’s lived in California. How hard a question is that to answer to the people of this state? There’s been deception there, too.

    But more than anything, we need to remember this fact… she, along with Carly Fiorina, is a ‘serial outsourcer’, having outsourced tens of thousands of good paying jobs from California to India. Whitman, in a span of 5 years at EBay, increased offshore employment by 660%! She has a jobs plan alright… for India. She has no loyalty to American workers, which is so typical for the unpatriotic heads of these corporations, which have waged a race to the bottom, in terms of employment opportunities for Californians.

    Now let’s talk about Jerry Brown, who, during his 8 years in office as governor before, produced 1.9 million jobs in California and gave us a $5 billion ‘rainy day surplus’ which was needed when Proposition 13 passed in 1978, and immediately, school districts and cities up and down the state were starved for 2/3 of the revenue they normally received.

    Thank God Governor Jerry Brown believed in having rainy day surpluses, as he gave all that money to cities and school districts, avoiding a disastrous situation that we are in today! That was good fiscal management!

    Also, during his administration, we became the leaders in the entire world in renewable energy. He was right then about depletion of resources, including water, sustainable development, and renewable energy…and today, all these issues are all the more urgent. He was against offshore drilling all along and always promoted green jobs.

    The only intelligent option for governor is Jerry Brown. He cannot be bought and sold, and will always remain pro-people, pro-environment, and pro-green jobs.

    And, as mayor of Oakland, Jerry Brown revitalized the downtown and today, there are 10,000 new residents there, new condos and apartments, restaurants, theaters, art galleries. That was a brilliant urban renewal plan and Jerry Brown was the leader in that. Finally, Jerry Brown, through his lifelong dedication to renewable energy, helped put Oakland on the list of “Top Ten Greenest Cities in America.” What an incredible accomplishment!

    And as Meg Whitman already spent about $70 million of her own money to buy the governorship, Jerry Brown would never monopolize the air waves, as she has, ‘carpet bombing’ our public air waves, which is really akin to something totalitarian.

    By the way, he has dedicated his whole adult life to public service to California, not getting rich at the corporate trough like Meg Whitman, who hides a lot of her $1 billion fortune in the Cayman Islands.

    Jerry, I’m with you 100% and I will do my part as an ordinary citizen activist to help get you elected. We have never needed your skills, experience and wisdom more than now. Please go to and read his bio, his accomplishments as governor, mayor and attorney general.

    Jerry Brown has been a true public servant for the people of California, not some rich and restless person who woke up one day and said, “Gee, I think I’ll be governor now.”
    Go Jerry!