Jerry Brown apologizes to Bill Clinton over comment

California Attorney General and Democratic candidate for governor Jerry Brown pauses while speaking during a news conference August 31, 2010 in Oakland, California.
California Attorney General and Democratic candidate for governor Jerry Brown pauses while speaking during a news conference August 31, 2010 in Oakland, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

OAKLAND - Candidate for California governor Jerry Brown apologized Monday for taking a swipe at fellow Democrat and former President Bill Clinton over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

His apology came a day after Brown said his Republican rival Meg Whitman is using Clinton footage from the 1992 Democratic presidential primary to lie about Brown in a current campaign attack ad.

In response to the ad, Brown took a jab at Clinton.

"Bill Clinton was an excellent president," Brown told reporters Monday. "It was wrong for me to joke about an incident from many years ago, and I'm sorry."

Brown said he called Clinton's office and apologized to one of the former president's aides, not directly to Clinton.

In video from a Sunday event posted on Time Magazine's website, Brown said Whitman has "even got Clinton lying about me."

"I mean Clinton's a nice guy, but who ever said he always told the truth?" Brown said in the video. "You remember, right? There's that whole story there about did he or didn't he."

Time did not say who shot the footage.

Clinton and Brown have had a testy relationship since that presidential race. Clinton endorsed Brown's primary campaign rival, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, before he dropped out last year.

In the old 1992 footage, Clinton called Brown's assertion about his record on taxes "just plain wrong," and said Brown took credit for voters approving Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot initiative that rolled back and capped property taxes.

Brown opposed the measure but embraced it after the election.

"And now he's going around taking credit for it," Clinton says in the footage used by Whitman. "He raised taxes as governor of California. He had a surplus when he took office and a deficit when he left. He doesn't tell the people the truth."

The source of Clinton's criticism was a CNN report by Brooks Jackson, who issued a statement over the weekend on Factcheck.org saying he had mischaracterized Brown's record on taxes.

"Brown is right; I made a mistake in my 1992 report," Jackson wrote.

Specifically, Jackson said he picked the wrong year in concluding that California's state taxes were higher when Brown left office than in his first year.

However, Jackson defended his criticism of Brown's claim that he cut taxes as governor, noting that taxes were slashed by voters' approval of Proposition 13.

As governor from 1975 to 1983, Brown built the state's surplus to $6 billion, but he and the Legislature spent much of it - about $4.4 billion - bailing out local governments and schools after Proposition 13 passed. Their goal was to offset the immediate effects of the lowered property tax revenue.

At the time, the move was praised by tax-cut crusader Howard Jarvis and supported by Republicans in the Legislature.

Brown has called on Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay, to take the ad down.

"Why does Whitman run ads that are false? Because she thinks that a billionaire can just make things up and lie in a political campaign," Brown said.

Whitman spokeswoman Andrea Jones Rivera said the campaign stands behind its ad.

"The facts remain that Jerry Brown is constantly at war with the truth about his record of opposing tax cuts, opposing Proposition 13 and turning a multi-billion surplus in to a multi-billion (dollar) deficit," Jones Rivera said.

Asked if he expected Clinton to endorse him in the governor's race, Brown said Monday he expects Clinton "will be helpful" when asked if the former president had plans to endorse him.

Clinton's office did not immediately respond to a phone message or e-mail from The Associated Press.

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Associated Press Writers Juliet Williams and Samantha Young in Sacramento contributed to this report.

© 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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