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Eights day out, Jerry Brown makes debut fall campaign stop

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a get-out-the-vote rally Monday in Pleasanton, Calif.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Jerry Brown has never been one to abide by custom, so it would not have been altogether unusual—for him, at least—to run an entire fall campaign without making a single campaign appearance.

But just eight days before a statewide vote he seems destined to win, California’s Democratic governor edged with a minimum of fanfare Monday onto the campaign trail.

The setting was a strip-mall branch of the state party, wedged between a cosmetology school and beauty supply shop, where he delivered a stream-of-consciousness pitch that included references, among other digressions, to the Gold Rush, Moses and McDonald’s.

Summed up, Brown’s message was that California has prospered anew under his leadership—more than 1.4 million jobs have been created in four years, he said--and gone from a model of dysfunction to the envy of other states.

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“It’s pretty damned impressive,” he said, as about 75 supporters cheered in affirmation. A cutout of President Obama smiled from a corner near the front door.

In just over 10 rapid-fire minutes, Brown offered abundant self-praise, worked in pitches for a pair of propositions he supports on the Nov. 4 ballot and donned the mantle of Democratic leader to make a plug, of sorts, for his party peers.

Don’t worry, he told the cluster of TV cameras, about sending too many Democrats to Sacramento, where they hope to win back a two-thirds legislative majority. “If they get out of hand,” Brown said. “ I’ll keep them in check.”

Seeking an unprecedented fourth term, the 76-year-old Brown has run a campaign so minimalist as to be almost nonexistent. He has hardly dipped into a $23-million campaign reserve and has run just a few TV ads promoting his two favored ballot measures, to finance water projects and bolster the state’s budget reserve.

He has said little about his record, much less his plans if given another four years in Sacramento. He has also ignored his badly trailing Republican opponent, Neel Kashkari, having debated him just once in the distant recesses of early September.

On Monday, the only references to Kashkari were by inference. “Yes, we have a lot of problems. Yes, we have inequalities,” Brown said, addressing one of the assertions at the center of Kashkari’s campaign. “But we’re attacking them.”

Rather than any sort of conventional speech, Brown’s remarks were more of a free-form exposition on matters like the benefits of experience—he’s learned a lot the past four years, he said—the nature of collaboration—there’s no dictator in a bunker under the state Capitol issuing edicts, he clarified—and the diversity of California and within the state Democratic Party.

“Our party and our state government has not been McDonaldized,” he said, to a ripple of laughter. “That means all over the world, the same dab of mustard is put on the same size patty at the same time for the same temperature. We have a more diverse approach to what we’re doing.”

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Afterward, speaking for about 10 minutes to reporters, Brown addressed another of Kashkari’s criticisms, defending his appeal of a court decision that ruled California’s teacher tenure rules unconstitutional. Brown started with a quip, saying he first thought a Kashkari TV ad featuring a drowning boy—a symbolic assertion Brown had neglected students—was somehow related to water issues.

He said he has devoted much of his term to education concerns and ensuring adequate funding and teacher accountability. While there are problem teachers, Brown said, the greater worry is retaining qualified instructors.

“Certainly, dismissal procedures are very challenging and are by no means perfect and could use a lot of change,” he said. “But when you look at the vast scope of 6.2 million kids, there’s not one little silver bullet.”

Brown ruled out an extension of the temporary income and sales tax hikes approved by voters in 2012 and set to begin phasing out in two. He also closed the door, briefly opened in a recent Los Angeles Times interview, on a possible repeat run for Oakland mayor once his term in Sacramento ends.

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“Other than being governor, I don’t know that you should repeat things too often,” he said, then quoted Karl Marx: “Didn’t they say first time is tragedy, second time is farce? So I want to be wary of that.”

With that, Brown exited a back door less than half an hour after he arrived at the election outpost in this middle-class East Bay suburb.

More campaign stops are planned, starting in Southern California on Tuesday.

I’m no stranger to the campaign trail. Follow https://twitter.com/markzbarabak for more on California and national politics

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