Jerry Brown deserves a place among the nation's top officials in 2013

He’s the Democratic governor of a liberal, trend-setting West Coast state. He had an earlier tour in the same office, serving two terms in previous decades before leaving to pursue other endeavors. He came back to be re-elected in 2010 and is now serving a remarkable third term, which has been marked by an economic turnaround and a budget rescued by new taxes. He’s being cagey about whether he’ll seek re-election next year. He’s been sometimes criticized and sometimes celebrated for his quirky, iconoclastic manner. Governing Magazine, the insiders’ journal of state and local government, put him atop its narrow list of top public officials for 2013.

Sorry, Jerry Brown, it’s not you.

It’s John Kitzhaber of Oregon. The former emergency room physician landed on top of the magazine’s list of nine honorees for his willingness to take risks, fail and try again. Governing announced its honorees several weeks ago; now the December issue is out, with Kitzhaber's photo on the cover, so the Oregon governor can complete his victory lap.

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But perhaps Brown is due for some recognition as well. Earlier this month he moved past Earl Warren's nearly 11 years in office to become California's longest-serving governor, but in this third term -- separated by years from his earlier tenure, just like Kitzhaber -- he pulled off a political feat of near-magical proportions: He persuaded Californians, just over a year ago, to temporarily raise their taxes. In so doing, he moved the state back from the brink of yet another budget debacle.

The reckoning will still come, of course, but the governor bought the state some time.

Brown’s and Kitzhaber’s tasks are similar but by no means identical. Oregon, despite its icon status among new urbanists and progressives, is more evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans than is California, where Democrats just regained their two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature. And of course Oregon is a fraction of California’s size.

Brown probably would not have been such a good fit for Oregon. Although he touted the "small is beautiful" philosophy when he became governor the first time, in 1975, Brown has always liked the big stage and the national platform that California has given him.

The only Californian to make Governing’s list this year is San Francisco’s elected treasurer, Jose Cisneros, named for extending his role as the city’s (and county’s) chief investment officer into a center of antipoverty initiatives.

Californians don’t generally have much presence on Governing’s list, considering the state’s size and population. Last year’s honorees included State Auditor Elaine Howle, virtually unknown to most Californians.

You’d have to go back to 2007 to see anyone from Los Angeles, but that year there were two: Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, honored for pragmatism and compromise during the Schwarzenegger administration, and Police Chief William J. Bratton for turning around the Los Angeles Police Department.

Among the honorees in 2006 was Rick Cole, the former mayor of Pasadena who at the time was city manager of Ventura. Cole was tapped earlier this year by Mayor Eric Garcetti to be Los Angeles’ deputy mayor for business and innovation.


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