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Opinion

Readers React: ‘Leave Jerry to the ages’: Reader reviews were mixed the first time Gov. Brown left office in 1983

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Then-Gov.-elect Jerry Brown meets with his outgoing predecessor, Ronald Reagan, in Sacramento on Nov. 8, 1974.
(Associated Press)

Looking only at the budget numbers, one cannot argue with the statement that Gov. Jerry Brown will leave office Monday with California better off than when he started in 2011. But it wasn’t always so for Brown, who first relinquished the governorship in 1983 with a political career ahead of him that seemed unpromising and a legacy for California that was at best mixed.

Most of the letters to the editor we’ve received this week assessing Brown’s service have been positive (several will be published in the coming days). But in January 1983, readers expressed polarized opinions on Brown in letters published in the Los Angeles Times. Here is a look back at some of the reviews of our outgoing governor’s first two — and what at the time seemed like his only two — terms in office.

A letter from Jan. 6, 1983, rebutted the idea that “Brown was fun”:

“Sure, Jerry was fun. It was fun when his failure to solve the vexing taxation problem severely impacting the middle class led to the passage of Proposition 13, and the consequent deterioration of the school system, the state mental hospital system, and the Medi-Cal system….

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“It was lots of fun to watch him belittle the faculty of the University of California at the (extremely few, but far too many) regents meetings he attended….

“It sure will be fun watching him solve the problems of the galaxy and the universe when he’s president.”

A letter from Jan. 20, 1983, responded to an editorial that praised Brown for “doing it his way”:

“He certainly did do it his way, which was to take a state from a 4-to-5-billion-dollar excess, to a 1 1/2-to-2-billion deficit. He took us from a AAA bond rating to where we may not have only a B rating and can’t sell our bonds….

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“He surely did it his way — he spent it all — he was fiscally irresponsible.”

Another letter published that same day was more positive, and mirrors some of the assessments written today:

“Brown sought public office to serve. We never heard any hint that he used his office for personal profit. He has integrity, intelligence, honesty, creativity.

“In a world ridden with conflicts and confusion we need mavericks, people not afraid of new ideas, new methods, new horizons. We need Brown and more like him.”

One reader predicted Brown was destined for higher office.

“Generally speaking, Jerry Brown reflects much that is the relatively ‘advanced’ and ‘New Age’ way of life that is experienced by many in California.

“He is trying to bring a culturally enlightened approach to practical politics. As such, he is a rare politician. But, let California make a sacrifice: The nation will eventually need Jerry for president.”

Another said Brown’s time had passed and criticized his supporters:

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“Well, Jerry has been out in space and has also come crashing down. Rejected on both the national level and by his own state, one can only wonder how far out of step with the times is The Times. Let’s leave Jerry to the ages.”

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