Pragmatic Leadership Style Aids Bipartisan Victories, Brown Says

California Governor Jerry Brown says four decades in public life have taught him to embrace a pragmatic leadership style that’s helping him achieve bipartisan support in the state legislature.

“Forty years ago I said, ‘It’s time for a change,’” Brown said in an interview on Sept. 5 in his San Francisco office. “Now I say, ‘There’s no substitute for experience.’”

Brown spoke with Matthew Winkler, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News; Alan Goldstein, managing editor for state and local news; Jeffrey Taylor, San Francisco bureau chief; and Michael B. Marois, the reporter who covers the governor from Sacramento.

The following are excerpts from the interview:

On long-term planning:

“I anticipate. I look at issues that can then put me in position later on when I’m going to have to do something else. You can call it building coalitions but underneath all of that is a lot of very specific unique ideas and bills and actions and personalities and those have to be seized. Therefore you have to be thinking about it. It’s not just this high level 50,000 feet view. It’s a bunch of things.”.

“You have to have advance planning, building relationships, thinking out what are the elements that have to be brought together, that have to converge, in order to get things done.”

On how one issue leads to another:

“When I was negotiating the tax, unsuccessfully, I wasn’t thinking about the water bond. But in effect I was building good will to get that done.”

On working with Republicans:

“It also happens because Republicans don’t have very much power and so most of the time their presence is completely irrelevant for a good part of the time. Given that position, when I can find times to engage them, that becomes a positive.”

On the roles of elected officials and their staff:

“It’s all negotiation with the staff. Think of the politicians as up here on a stage going through their motions and underneath the stage are all these gnomes, these experts that are writing all the rules and then sending up the talking points. They are all talking up stairs on the stage, but all the real action is going on downstairs. Except the leaders do say to the gnomes, ‘OK, we will do that, and they go and do it.’”

On lessons he has learned:

“Forty years ago I said, ‘It’s time for a change.’ Now I say, ‘There’s no substitute for experience.’”

“It takes many factors. As Machiavelli said, fortuna e virtù. Virtù is skill. Fortuna is good fortune. You have to have both of those.”

On Proposition 13:

“I enjoy reflecting on how things work and so I think a lot about it and the way I think how things work changes over time. So when I think back on things I did, what could I have done to avoid proposition 13, what could I have done?”

“It would have taken action, not six months before but probably two and half years before, some decisive action that I was not prepared to take because it seemed too strenuous vis-a vis doing nothing but as it turns out, if I had known what was going to happen with Prop 13 I would have taken a more strenuous action because then it wouldn’t have looked so hard. It would have looked easy relative to 13 and all it brought.”

On education reform:

“When I went to school at St. Ignatius High School, Eisenhower was president and Pius XII was the pope and we had Republican, Elmer Robinson as the mayor of San Francisco. This was a world that worked and it worked well. Then we had the 60s and all the rest of the things that happened, but I’m trying to recreate that with the military school and we are doing well.”

On his next term:

“The great challenge for the next four years will be to say no, to keep our budget in line without so alienating those who feel the spending claims are absolutely required for a decent society.”

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