California Governor Jerry Brown reflected on his winding career path at the Institute of Politics on Friday.
Brown, who Institute Director David Axelrod (A.B. ’76) introduced as a “durable figure in American politics,” began with a discussion of his background. Brown became interested in policy during his father’s tenure as California governor after overhearing conversations his father had with his colleagues about the problems facing the state.
He served as Secretary of State in California from 1971 to 1974, and served two terms as governor from 1975 to 1983, before losing the 1982 Senate election in an attempt to hop posts.
After a hiatus of involvement in political affairs following his Senate defeat, Brown decided to jump back into politics in 1988 as the chairman of the California Democratic Party.
Brown resigned from the position in 1991. “I left office because I wasn’t very popular,” he said. “Being chairman was a miserable job, because you get to see the dark side of politics, the nuts and bolts of the party system.”
Although Brown expressed frustration with the position, he did admit that there was one reason he ought to have remained.
“Don’t get out of power, because it’s very hard to get back.”
After six years off the radar, Brown re-emerged as Mayor of Oakland in 1998. From 2007 to 2011, he served as the Attorney General of California before being elected as governor for a third term.
Students asked Brown about the nature of politics and the future of healthcare and education in California. He said that the biggest challenge for those in office is the negative views most people have towards politicians because of economic hardships. However, according to Brown, in a state in which residents have both initiative and recall powers, public support and collective decision-making is essential.
“The political realm is being marginalized as the market realm is expanding. Citizenship is not about being a customer, it’s about being responsible and making decisions,” Brown said.