Letters from special guests

A few who knew him “back in the day” have some advice for Governor-elect Jerry Brown.

Artwork by Victoria Smith

Needed: transformational leadership

I congratulate you, Governor-elect Jerry Brown.

Upon this 50th anniversary of our initial meeting at the Sacred Heart Novitiate in Los Gatos, I wish you well in your efforts to lead our beloved state and the people of California forward into good times again.

Yours will be no easy task as California faces its greatest peril in our history.

We’ll need you to provide (per MacGregor Burns): “transformational” instead of “transactional” leadership (per the master Marshall Ganz). You’ll need all of us Californians working with you as well.

My suggestions:

We all must recognize we face enormous challenges on several critical fronts: political and governmental, fiscal and budgetary, economic and social, structural and cultural. I commend you upon your convening diverse California leaders to appreciate the realities we’re facing. We must be all on the same page to make progress.

We must search out and attend to the root causes of our fiscal crises. This will be difficult, given the profound division of our people today into seemingly never-ending warring camps.

We must also pay attention to the profound Cultural Revolution we are experiencing today. For its genesis, I refer you to that brilliant futurist (my mentor) Willis Harman, whom you appointed to the UC Board of Regents long ago. Harman’s 1970 essay, “A New Copernican Revolution,” recognizes and identifies and names what is happening in our midst today (then, and even more so now)—as profound as the tectonic shattering discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo, then Darwin (still today much disputed) and Freud.

Harman defines today’s most basic revolution as that major emerging undercurrent in our society which demonstrates a growing shift in our most basic vision of our selves as human—from negative (inactively inclined toward evil) to positive (innately inclined toward becoming per psychologist Carl Rogers “life-affirming, constructive, responsible and trustworthy”).

I also refer you to conservative Republican political economist Thomas Sowell from Stanford University. In his major book, A Conflict of Visions, he confirms (I agree) that it’s precisely that “conflict” that underlies all the most vehement divisions regarding social issues in our society today.

A challenge, then, for you, Jerry Brown: Become fully aware of the total implications of this “conflict of visions”—and declare your self and your own vision. It is going to inform your every expectation (regarding your self, and each and every other human being) and thereby most likely determine your actions, including the politics and programs you propose.

My final caution for you, Jerry Brown: Be wary of cynicism—that negative vision regarding our selves, our human nature and our potential—that can lead us only into further divisions (both within and between ourselves).

Again, I cite Harman: “In times of chaos, only idealism will prove to be realistic!”

In summary, Jerry Brown, I encourage you, to lead our people and state forward altogether, bonded by our common faith, to restore our Golden State.

Let me know if/when/how ever I can be of help to you and to the people and state of California.


John Vasconcellos

California state senator retired (not entirely)38 years representing the heart of Silicon Valley

John Vasconcellos wrote a chapter in the book Remaking California called “California: The Perfect Storm,” about the state’s most obvious immediate fiscal challenge.


Your second bite at the apple

Welcome back to Sacramento and to the governor’s office! I tried e-mailing you, but who am I kidding? You’re a paper-and-ink guy. I can’t believe you’re governor again! Politics is a strange thing. You truly do get a second bite at the apple in this business.

Some things have changed since you were last governor (OK, so the budget is still bad, and once again, you’ve taking over the reins from a former actor), but not to worry, as mayor of the capital of California, I’m more than happy to show you the new and improved Sacramento.

You’ll notice we’ve added a few skyscrapers, some restaurants that stay open past 10 p.m., the Crocker [Art Museum]’s been expanded and we’ve even acquired a pro basketball team.

I am glad to hear you and the Mrs. found a place to plant your futon downtown. Great view, great energy and the perfect place to ride your bike into work.

Sadly, most of the Capitol reporters that covered you have been laid off, golden-parachuted or are bloggers now. The good news is, although we know you were governor in 1975, not many people remember the details. You’re sort of like Bruce Jenner. The statute of limitations has expired and you have a clean slate. You really do get a second chance to make a first impression. Take it all in and enjoy the next four years.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson


Artwork by kevin serrano

California (and America) needs a vision

Dear Jerry,

Your überchallenge, of course, is to solve California’s budget crisis while maintaining its lead in promoting renewable energy. I believe you can only hope to do so, however, if the budget-balancing measures you propose are enfolded into a larger positive vision of long-term gain through disciplined, fair and shared short-term pain.

My first memory when you announced for governor this time was your 1979 presidential campaign announcement, which began, “The times call out for discipline and vision. Seeing none, I announce my candidacy for president of the United States.” Though the second sentence drew smiles, both were true and a startling burst of clarity in the darkness of U.S. electoral politics. The times did call out for discipline and vision, and there was none: the cause of our present troubles. And your call is even more important today.

My second memory was of the courageous theme of your first governorship: that America had reached a new “era of limits” in resources. I cannot think of another major postwar U.S. politician who can claim to be a prophet and seer, and you deserve enormous credit for your political bravery then as you endured uninformed attacks from demagogues claiming you were pessimistic and un-American.

Today, of course, history has proven you correct. And you raising the issue—accompanied by your first-term creation of the best environmental policies in the nation, and your second-term focus on creating economic “growth in an era of limits” by promoting the Information Revolution and investment in people, not resources—was an enormous and lasting contribution to California, the nation and world.

Now, as you take office in 2011, I believe you have an even more prophetic and important role to play, built around these two themes.

First, America has clearly entered a new “era of national limits,” not only on resources but its ability to create jobs and rising incomes, tolerate unprecedented income inequality, provide levels of education and social spending which people have until now taken for granted, and incarcerate more people than anywhere on Earth while waging wars abroad it can no longer afford. This, like the resource limits you pointed to in the 1970s, is not a matter for serious debate. But until the public understands this new reality, it will be impossible for either California or our nation to move forward. It thus seems to me you have no higher mission today than to educate Californians and Americans about this new “era of national limits,” reminding people that the fact that you were right then means your analysis should be taken seriously today.

And second, the keys to surviving this new “era of national limits” are precisely what you called for in 1979: discipline and vision. First, California and America needs a vision of what we can realistically achieve given the new limits we face. Without a positive vision built around renewing the U.S. economy by creating a new Clean-energy Economic Revolution to succeed the Industrial and Information Revolutions, I do not see how California can move forward. Politics that is only about endless short-term pain seems clearly doomed to failure. And second, of course, the state—and nation—need to implement this vision in a disciplined way—built around the principle of “fair, shared and cost-effective sacrifice today to create a better tomorrow.”

Our present politics, of course, is built around “ask what your society can do for you,” an obviously suicidal policy in this new era of national limits. It is precisely because the powerful lobbyists and special interests that infest Sacramento have had their way that California is facing a $25 billion shortfall and one of the lowest credit ratings in the nation. I think you need to try to create a new politics responding to [John F. Kennedy]’s call “to ask what you can do” for California—for example, through a series of town meetings and “fireside chats” that ask Californians what they are willing to sacrifice now to achieve growth later for themselves and our children.

This needs to be a statewide conversation that takes the issue to the people, as well as politicians and bureaucrats. Obviously, California’s budget problems cannot be solved and its credit-rating restored without a package of both tax increases and spending cuts. Obviously, such a program must require faired and shared sacrifice, starting at the top but ultimately involving most citizen. And obviously, such a program—by strengthening state and national initiatives to create clean-energy jobs—can and must offer hope for a better future.

Although every politician in California knows these three propositions are true, most are more concerned with serving contributors and posturing to interest groups than saving their state. Your only hope is to reach the people of California who have, by and large, proven their common sense and decency time and again when given an opportunity to have their say. I admire you for taking on what seems like an insuperable challenge. Good luck!

Fred Branfman

director of research for Brown for President in 1979 and early 1980, and for the governor of California from 1980-83, developing the governor’s 1981 high technology and 1982 “Investment in People” State of the State initiatives


Risk unconventional approaches

Dear Governor-Elect Brown:

One of your defining qualities as a leader has been your refusal to view politics as a series of binary choices: Democratic vs. Republican, big-spending vs. uncaring, or preventing problems vs. fixing them. You never made leadership about getting everyone across the political spectrum to capitulate. Instead, you fight for the inclusion of everyone’s best ideas.

We need that kind of leadership now more than ever. California is facing staggering fiscal challenges at a time when the public is understandably disillusioned with big institutions across the board. The crisis in our health-care delivery system, along with the crisis in our health itself, is emblematic of conventional politics and status quo policies failing the people.

The health of Californians is one area where we’re counting on you to risk unconventional approaches, challenge entrenched assumptions and to think big without spending big.

That means using the new federal health reform law to shift away from short-term competition for health dollars to longer-term investments in prevention and wellness.

It means moving from millions of uninsured families and hidden taxes on covered Californians to shared responsibility.

Above all, it means changing the question from “How will we pay to care for a growing number of sick people?” to “How can we help to keep millions of Californians healthier in the first place?”

Achieving these goals will require a brand of leadership unafraid of provoking debate, comfortable with drawing criticism, accustomed to the skepticism that accompanies being ahead of the times.

In short, two words of advice:

Be yourself.

Daniel Zingale

senior vice president of policy, communications and public affairs for the California Endowment, former chief of staff to California’s first lady Maria Shriver and senior adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former aide to Gov. Gray Davis