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News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

Getting to know Gov. Jerry Brown with The Atlantic's James Fallows

by Take Two®

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California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during the fourth annual Water, Energy and Smart Technology Summit and Showcase at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field on May 23, 2013 in Mountain View, California. The governor joined more than 500 world-renowned researchers and scientists who are calling for action on climate change and other global threats. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It's been two-and-a-half years now since Jerry Brown was sworn in as California Governor. Hard work and some good luck have combined to turn around the state's balance sheet from a serious deficit to a small surplus.

But California still faces a host of challenges, including over-crowded prisons, aging infrastructure, and a failing education system.

In this month's issue of The Atlantic Magazine, writer James Fallows takes a long look at Jerry Brown, and the state of the state he's governing. It's an interesting read, made more interesting by the fact that Fallows grew up in the Golden State.

James Fallows joins the show to talk about getting to know Gov. Jerry Brown, and Brown's legacy in California politics. 

Interview Highlights:

On why he chose to write about Jerry Brown:
"One was that I've always identified myself as a Californian. I grew up in Redlands, that's where all my family was from. I'd worked as a speech writer for President Jimmy Carter at a time when Brown was running against him for political office. While living in Japan in the 1980s, I met briefly what was ex-Governor Brown there in his zen meditation stage. Most of all, it seemed that California's predicaments were a very useful model for America as a whole in this sense that every thing that's part of California's productive, private economy is the best in the world. But its government, as we all know, has been having terrible problems over the last couple of decades. That's sort of a model for America at large, so I went to see what Governor Brown in his second incarnation was able to do about it."

On how Brown's pursuits outside of politics set him apart as a politician:
"Most other politicians, either you feel as if you're putting coins into a jukebox, where you mention a certain issue and get the standard spiel there. Even the ones who are really gifted conversationalists, I'm thinking now of Bill Clinton, mainly whoever he's with, he's talking at. Whereas with Governor Brown...as old as he is and this secure as he is politically, to be relatively unafraid of saying whatever pops into his mind at any given moment. So that makes him interesting to talk with, and all of the different parts of his background; his time in the seminary when he was, for a couple of years, planning to be a Jesuit; his childhood growing up with his father as Governor Pat Brown, the ups and downs he's had in politics, you as if they're all coming together like different channels to form one mighty Mississippi (River) of political thought."

Why does he seem more happy than his first terms in the 1970s?:
"He said that it's more fun to be governor now because he just has almost 40 years more experience than he did. He claimed, somewhat, I think, disingenuously, that it was too easy the first time around. That the budget had a surplus, now that's obviously not the case. But you had the feeling of somebody who was more integrated and at peace with all the different parts of his life than may have been the case before. He became governor when he was 36 the first time, and it was in most of the news coverage then that there was a sense of Freudian tension. Was he setting himself apart from the big spending ways of his father, Governor Pat Brown…?"

On not being a big spender like his father:
"He pointed out that his father in personal life was also quite careful with his money. He said that his father's own father had run some poker saloons in San Francisco, and died with no money at all. Pat Brown was presiding over California in the time of new freeways, new university branches, new everything. By the time Jerry Brown came back, the budget was in terrible crisis, the propositions had hamstringed the way that the state was able to get things done, and so the lifelong image he has had as a cheapskate has validated him in the state's eyes as somebody who will, although he's a Democrat and believes in some big projects for the state, not be blowing their money."

On Brown's lasting legacy:
"They will view it as being very fortunate him and the state that he had a second chance as governor. Because if he didn't, he would be seen as this oddball governor moonbeam and as the person who tried several times for the presidency and the Senate and didn't make it, and ended up as the mayor of Oakland. I think we see as much a human lesson as we see a governmental lesson, as somebody who had that rare thing: a clean second chance, and so far has been able to make the most of it."

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