Brown ready to fight

No more ‘Zen rope-a-dope’ with Whitman

Jerry Brown took some flak when he said early on that he wasn’t going to campaign for governor until Labor Day. Pundits said that would give Meg Whitman, with her buckets of money, time to build up an insurmountable lead.

Won’t happen, Brown said, and he was right. Right now he and Whitman are about even in the polls, despite the fact that she’s spent around $100 million of her own money and he’s hardly spent a dime.

That’s one thing about Jerry Brown: He’s tighter than a tick. Whitman is trying to portray him as a big spender, but she’s got it all wrong. As governor, he was such a tightwad he refused to live in the newly built governor’s mansion, opting instead for a modest apartment near the Capitol and eschewing a chauffeured limousine in favor of a Plymouth Satellite.

That frugality extended to state spending. Brown made Ronald Reagan, his immediate predecessor, look like a wastrel—and in the process built up one of the biggest budget surpluses in state history.

So far Brown has been playing what columnist Bill Bradley calls “Zen rope-a-dope,” dodging Whitman’s punches in the belief that she will tire voters with her incessant presence on their TV sets. He’s got about $25 million in the bank, but she’s got as much dough as she’s willing to spend. No governor candidate in history has faced such a free-spending opponent, so Brown’s strategy must rely on finesse—and a large cadre of volunteers—above all else.

He’s been one of the best attorneys general in the state’s history. Whether voters will recognize that and see that he’s also one of the smartest and most experienced politicians in the country remains to be seen. The game is his to lose. Democrats have a 14-point voter registration edge in California, which means Whitman is going to have to pick up the bulk of the independents to win.

As Brown told Bradley last week, “The stage is set.”

There’s an expression in the publishing business about unexpected stories: We say they “came in over the transom,” a reference to the small window above doors in old big-city newspaper offices.

We published such a story in our Aug. 26 issue, “Bats, bugs and noises in the night,” Allan Stellar’s fun, quirky tale about his hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Stellar was a stranger to me when he pitched the story, but he’d written for other publications and I liked the concept, so why not give it a shot?

The cover story in this issue was a similar surprise. I’d never met Deanna Alexich before she contacted me, but her pitch was intriguing, so I invited her to come in for a talk. When I heard her story and saw what a smart and warm-hearted person she was, I figured she could make it work, despite never having written for publication before.

I’m proud to present her story. It’s a thoughtful and highly readable description of the real-world difficulties of teaching diversity and tolerance, especially toward gay and lesbian students. I’m confident you’ll enjoy it.