CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR : Adviser Criticizes Brown's Portrayal of State Economy


Democrat Kathleen Brown's gubernatorial campaign theme of scoring California's economy as the worst in the country was sharply criticized Thursday by one of her informal economics advisers, Joel Kotkin, who said he was disassociating himself from the Brown effort.

Kotkin, a journalist and commentator who believes in the economic power of emerging industries, said that the "America's worst economy" line in Brown's literature and television ads is damaging California's business allure.

Although California's unemployment rate remains high, for a variety of reasons, California's "is not remotely the worst economy in the country," Kotkin said, noting that a third of the nation's 100 fastest-growing companies are located in California, according to Inc. magazine.

"I think it's really bad strategy," Kotkin said, adding that there was considerable dismay within the Brown camp and among some of Brown's business supporters about the economic thrust of the campaign.

A response from the Brown campaign late Thursday said: "Kathleen Brown understands that the California economy has many underlying strengths, but under Pete Wilson this state and the economy have suffered four years of decline and neglect. The facts are clear that California has the worst-managed economy in America."

The statement by policy adviser Ben Sherwood went on to cite a litany of unemployment and business-failure statistics and said that Brown has developed a strategy supported by leading economists and business leaders to build on California's strengths and create a million jobs.

Brown officials described Kotkin as one of a number of experts Brown consulted. But he held no formal role in the campaign and, although he is a longtime friend of Brown, he was not considered part of her inner circle.

Kotkin said he has spent "a huge amount of time" explaining his economic theories to Brown and had expressed his objections to the campaign theme repeatedly in conversations with her. He said speaking out publicly "is really painful for me because I really like Kathleen Brown."

Kotkin is a proponent of a theory known as the New Economy that embraces the importance of emerging industries. Real economic growth, the theory goes, rests with small entrepreneurial firms in industries such as biomedicine, apparel, consumer economics, computer hardware and software and a variety of service industries.

Kotkin also is a journalist and commentator on economic matters who has written for the Los Angeles Times Sunday opinion section and occasionally appears on the Los Angeles outlet of the Fox Television Network. Brown's husband, Van Gordon Sauter, is an executive of Fox Television.

Brown has been criticized since the Democratic State Convention in mid-April when she adopted the new campaign slogan, "America's Best Treasurer to Revive America's Worst Economy."

Several Brown campaign insiders, who declined to be identified, said that changes are likely to be made in the campaign theme before the general election campaign gets under way this summer and that the slogan may be dropped. All of those contacted were convinced that she will defeat Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi and state Sen. Tom Hayden in the June 7 Democratic primary.

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