Jerry Brown, true to the form he established four decades ago, walked to the beat of his own drummer through his third inaugural.
Brown did the basics Monday. He gave a short speech after being sworn in as California’s 39th governor and then stopped for a hot dog at an event organized by the people who helped fill his campaign coffers and walked precincts for him.
But he didn’t stay long, and he didn’t even bother to take the stage at the event, which was hosted by the Orange County Employees Association, attended by thousands and billed as the “People’s Inaugural.”
Brown began his entry into the tented event by stopping by the VIP line but then veered past the notables and ventured out into the cheap seats, where he shook hands and drove his security escorts mad.
“It wasn’t my idea,” said Brown while eating his hot dog, one of 4,000 served at the event. “But if your supporters want to get together and cook some hot dogs, that’s great.”
Labor leaders were a bit taken aback by Brown’s brush off, but not necessarily shocked. Some speculated that his quick exit was a calculated move; others chalked it up to just another day with the man they call Moonbeam.
OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino was put in the awkward position of having to tell the crowd that Brown had changed plans at the last minute.
“We were prepared to have him come up and say some words,” Berardino told the crowd.
Later, Berardino said the move was vintage Brown. “He’s unorthodox,” Berardino said as he chuckled and shrugged his shoulders. “He’s independent, and he’s for the people.”
Apparently, Brown, who was governor from 1975 to 1983, also didn’t speak at an event sponsored for him by the California Labor Federation or even his own event at the California Railroad Museum.
In the midst of munching on his own hot dog, Joe Kerr, president of the Orange County Professional Firefighters, said such events were something outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would have loved, but not Brown.
“This isn’t Jerry’s style,” said Kerr, who noted that his union was one of the first that called on Brown to run for governor. “He’s low-key, old-school. It’s not about flash. And that’s why we like him.”
Some labor officials even wondered aloud whether there was a message being delivered.
“I’m not Gray Davis,” said one high-ranking labor official, remarking on the extremely close relationship the former governor had with organized labor.
There was one thing everyone in the Capitol yesterday — Democrats, labor leaders, Republicans — agreed on: They have no idea what’s headed their way.
Kerr said he expects Brown will be innovative, even though many labor leaders may not like the particulars of pension reform or other budget cuts.
“Everyone takes the hits. But everyone gets a seat at the table,” said Kerr.
Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) brought up Brown’s plan to put a slew of tax increases on the ballot for voters to consider.
“He’s actually talking about raising revenues,” said Perez, also a former Orange County labor leader. “And not just cutting.”
State Sen. Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, also said that the times — along with a $28 billion budget deficit — require more than “the old and tired approach of hiking taxes and instituting cuts.”
Correa said he’d like to see Brown focus on streamlining state regulations that are limiting job growth.
Orange County’s Republican delegation, who no doubt would fight Brown tooth-and-nail on any tax increase proposal, kept their swords sheathed Monday, allowing Brown to enjoy his first day in office.
“It’s a new year and a clean slate with a new governor,” said newly-elected Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa, a former mayor of Costa Mesa.
Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton, a former Orange County supervisor, liked Brown’s ideas for controlling redevelopment agencies and said he’d be looking forward to giving the new governor a chance.
Norby, who is the state’s most vocal lawmaker against redevelopment agencies, said Brown would likely have to put the issue of eliminating the agencies on an upcoming ballot initiative.
“If anyone can, he can,” Norby said. “He’s been a mayor so he’s seen redevelopment agencies on both sides.
City officials from Orange County who traveled to Sacramento Monday said they were extremely pleased with Brown’s inaugural remarks about sending more decision-making power, as well as revenues, to local governments.
“He was a local mayor so he’s sensitive to local needs,” said Santa Ana City Councilman Vince Sarmiento. “And he comes from a city very similar to ours.”
Santa Ana City Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez thought Santa Ana would do well under Brown because of his close relationship to Mayor Miguel Pulido.
“I think Santa Ana is his favorite among OC cities,” said Alvarez, noting that Brown often stays at Pulido’s house when he’s in Orange County.
Irvine Mayor Suhkee Kang said Brown’s interest in moving revenues back to the local level was right on target.
“I love it,” said Kang. “That’s the way it should be. California should let local government run it [the state].”
Kang said he especially liked Brown’s interest in hiking education spending, a big issue in Irvine.
Kang also echoed what many Republicans, Democrats and labor officials were talking about on Monday: efficiency.
“That’s critical,” Kang said. “Even in local government, we need to look at every department.”
Norby said for now, people shouldn’t view the new governor in terms of Democrat or Republican labels or issues.
“It’s all of us facing the facts,” Norby said. “I have high hopes and low expectations — that’s why I’m always happy.”