4th Trip to County in 2 Months : Brown Stumps for Leadership of Party

Times Political Writer

Former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., on his fourth trip to Orange County in the last 2 months to campaign for state Democratic Party chairman, told local Democrats on Monday that he would not use the chairmanship to run for higher office.

At the same time, Brown said that if he makes good on his promise to rebuild the Democratic Party and “if you want to call me to something else, I’ll take the call. But I’m not running for anything.”

After 6 years away from California politics, during which time Brown studied and traveled, the former governor returned to the political fray several months ago in a surprise bid for the state chairmanship. An idea person, he has not been viewed as the nuts-and-bolts type needed to organize the party for voter registration, get-out-the-vote and other grass-roots efforts needed to win statewide elections.

But Brown has campaigned for the leadership spot as if he were running for the U.S. Senate--which he did in 1982 only to lose to former San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson. The party leadership election takes place at the state Democratic Party convention Feb. 10 to 12 in Sacramento. Brown said he has 1,500 people committed to him. About 2,800 Democrats are expected to attend the state convention.


On Monday night, in a free-wheeling and often hilarious talk with about 80 members of the County Democratic Central Committee, Brown said to erupting laughter and applause: “I’m beginning to like Orange County. And I think Orange County may start to like me. . . .”

While Brown lost in Orange County in the U.S. Senate race, he won a plurality for the governorship in 1978. Brown was addressing a group of party leaders who represent more than 400,000 Democrats but who are so out-numbered by Republicans in Orange County that they get little or no attention statewide.

The former governor, who will return Friday for a Democratic Party gathering in Laguna Beach, promised to put resources into Orange County as a sort of “research and development” in order to rebuild the party.

“And I’m saying we can build the most powerful political party which allows more participation and more Democratic activism than ever before,” Brown said. “And the result is going to be a solid Democratic triumph. That’s my goal.”

He added, “If I don’t do that . . . I’m not going to go very far forward. I’ll have a hard time just hanging on by my fingernails.”

By the time Orange County party chairman Mike Balmages asked if there were any questions of Brown, the atmosphere was so light that party stalwart Richard J. O’Neill cracked, “Yeah, where’d he get that suit?” Brown, who was wearing a brown, double-breasted suit, indeed looked more like he was attending a partners’ meeting in a major law firm than a local Democratic meeting.

But on a more serious note, O’Neill commented after Brown’s 22-minute talk that he believes that Brown will “put something back into the state party.”

“I think he will put a lot of snap back in,” O’Neill said. “Whether he’s successful or not, I don’t know.”

Brown tentatively supported the county party’s plan to seek money from the state Democratic Party to finance a recall effort against Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove).

After a $2.2-million campaign, Pringle won the 72nd Assembly District seat last November over Democratic opponent Christian F. (Rick) Thierbach by 867 votes. But Democrats feel that the election was tainted because of the presence of uniformed security guards at 20 heavily Latino precincts in the 72nd District who they feel may have frightened away first-time Latino voters.

At the suggestion of Pringle’s campaign, the guards were hired by the county Republican Party because of fears party leaders had that the Democratic Party would bus in illegal voters to tip the election in Thierbach’s favor. Use of the guards caused an uproar not only among Democrats but in the Republican Party as well.

Brown said, “If the facts justify it and if things work out right, I’ll be glad to help out and do everything I can to make sure that your recall election that goes to the issue of the fraud and intimidation (on behalf of) Mr. Pringle does not go unnoticed or unchallenged.”

But Brown later fell short of an outright endorsement of the resolution when questioned by a reporter. “I’m very sympathetic, that’s all I’m saying.”

Asked if he lost the state chairmanship whether he would “be around working with us for the next few years,” Brown quipped: “No, I’m going back in the monastery.” When the room broke into laughter, the former seminarian joked, “Because I know I’ve got something to expiate that I haven’t finished with.”