Californians are dealing with a late summer outbreak of devastating wildfires. Even the National Guard has been called out to fight them.
On Tuesday, the Legislature began the final, furious days of its 2017 session with hundreds of bills still in limbo, including a package of housing measures that everyone considers vitally important to the state’s future.
And where is the state’s governor during this uncertain period? He’s thousands of miles away, in Vladivostok, Russia, participating in a global economic conference.
It would be a cheap shot to say that Brown, who has fewer than 16 months left before his departure from office, is derelict in his obligations to California.
Modern communications being what they are, he can remain in touch and in charge – although technically he was compelled to hand the reins of governance to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom during his absence.
Those communications would allow him to avoid the fate of his father, Pat Brown, whose governorship – and his chances for a third term – were spoiled when he happened to be traveling in Europe at the time the Watts riot erupted in August 1975. The state’s bumbling response to the riot was laid at his door, probably unfairly.
Rather, it would be fair to say that the younger Brown’s six-day sojourn to Russia, to rub shoulders with top Asian leaders and perhaps Russian President Vladimir Putin, underscores his hope of remaining relevant after his fourth term as governor ends in January 2019.
Cleverly, Brown has cast himself as an alternative to President Donald Trump, particularly, but not exclusively, on the issue of climate change – a sort of quasi-president of a populous, independent-minded state with a world-class economy.
“Every government and every business is responsible for making this radical turn, and from Victorville to Vladivostok, California will continue to lead the charge,” Brown said of climate change last week as he announced the trip.
Clearly hoping to establish some presence and stature independent of office, Brown has become something of a globetrotter since winning his fourth and final term as governor.
Two months hence, Brown will make a presentation to a United Nations climate change conference in Bonn. The presiding officer of that conference, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, has appointed Brown a “special adviser for states and regions” for the Bonn event.
Brown also will take part in New York City’s “Climate Week NYC” later this month and attend a United Nations General Assembly session.
After more than a half-century in public life, two-thirds of it holding one political office or another, and three unsuccessful bids for the White House, it’s understandable that Brown wouldn’t simply retire to his still-to-be-built home in the foothills of Colusa County.
However, it’s difficult for a politician to command attention after leaving office unless that office is president of the United States, unless the politician is a movie star such as Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger or unless the politician is running for something else, like president of the United States.
Brown isn’t a movie star and, once departed from the Capitol, will simply be an 80-year-old man who may have many interests, such as climate change and nuclear proliferation, but who won’t have any authority to affect policy.
That is, unless in Brown’s heart of hearts, he still yearns for the presidency that eluded him three times and believes that lightning could finally strike in 2020.
CALmatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/articles/author/dan-walters. Dan Walters: email@example.com