CALIFORNIANS NEED AN ATTORNEY GENERAL with enough passion, experience and creativity to steer the state through a period of economic and legal challenges. The question with Jerry Brown is not so much whether he has these qualities. It's whether he has too much of them. An excess of passion and creativity can lead to conflict, and long experience can result in a short attention span.
But these are hesitations, not disqualifications. Brown's opponent in the June 6 Democratic primary, Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, brings less experience and a mixed record to the race. Brown is easily the better candidate.
At first blush, there are plenty of reasons to chuckle at the notion of Brown running for the office his father won 56 years ago. This is, after all, ex-Gov. Moonbeam, the Jesuit novice and student of Zen, the man who defined 1970s California, dated a rock star, ran three times for president, worked with Mother Teresa in India, chaired the state Democratic Party, then became mayor of Oakland.
But Brown offers more than an entertaining life story. His career has given him perspective, and his record shows a rare combination of innovation and pragmatism. In Oakland, he has instituted curfews for felons and reduced the crime rate. He pushed for political reform even before Watergate and has stuck with it. He was an early crusader for the environment and gay rights, and he still leads on those issues. He has shown a refreshing disregard for the political establishment, even as he has become part of it.
Delgadillo, meanwhile, is not ready for the job. He did well to start a program of neighborhood prosecutors to fight quality-of-life crimes, and his expansion of anti-gang injunctions may well be helping the city get a handle on crime. But his record is spotty. There is his apparently shoddy probe into a billboard company that helped get him elected in 2001; his sketchy explanations for why he sent lucrative contracts to particular law firms, and, as documented in a highly critical state audit, his poor oversight of their work. There's also his office's slow, unsure, unclear opinions, such as his advice to the Police Commission on releasing the names of officers involved in shootings.
More than just a criminal prosecutor, the attorney general must protect consumers, uphold environmental laws, defend civil rights and advise countless state boards, agencies and officials on the law. Brown is clearly better suited than Delgadillo for that task. The Times endorses Brown to face off against Republican Chuck Poochigian in the Nov. 7 general election.