Brown is early leader for next governor | SierraSun.com

Brown is early leader for next governor

Thomas Elias

While all political eyes are still on this year’s presidential race and probably will be until after November, it won’t be long before people start looking at the impending race to succeed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

When they do, the first person they will see is Jerry Brown. He has two big advantages for which any Democratic candidate would give a lot: a bully pulpit as state attorney general that lets him stay in the public eye via free television news coverage of his activities whenever he likes and immense name recognition as a former governor who never really faded into obscurity.

But Brown will almost surely have plenty of competition from both Democrats and Republicans.

Likely to oppose him in the 2010 primary election will be Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who has lifted the public profile of his office by using ex-officio places on the state Lands Commission and the University of California Board of Regents to nix a major liquefied natural gas project and fight against tuition and fee increases. Garamendi is rarely far from a microphone when major state issues arise and he also gets a fair share of free news coverage.

He, too, enjoys high name recognition as a former two-term insurance commissioner and a longtime state senator who ran for governor twice before.

Another Democrat who might compete is 2006 nominee Phil Angelides, the former state treasurer who formed a liberal public policy group after losing two years ago to Schwarzenegger.

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Also a possible candidate is former state Controller Steve Westly, who spent several million of the dollars he made as marketing vice president of the eBay online auction house on an unsuccessful attempt to beat Angelides in the 2006 Democratic primary.

And there’s state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, quietly biding his time in a low-profile job but gathering a decent war chest.

Among Republicans, the obvious candidate is current Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a moderate Republican and another Silicon Valley high-tech mogul who appeared until this spring to have a virtual lock on his party’s nomination. Poizner did not hesitate while spending almost $10 million of his own cash on his campaign two years ago and in leading the campaign against the unsuccessful February Proposition 93, which would have let today’s legislative leaders stay on for four or six more years.

But Poizner now may have a big bucks primary election challenger, also from the Silicon Valley. That would be Westly’s former boss, ex-eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, who is now investigating a possible run for governor after saying she became “fascinated” with politics while raising money for unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. She later signed on as a major fund-raiser for John McCain, the all but certain Republican nominee.

No one really knows where Whitman may stand on issues, but if her backing Romney means anything much, she might be far to the right of Poizner, who has been as tough on insurance companies as Garamendi ever was. Democrats would love for Whitman to run because it would force Poizner, who has mostly been a self-funded politician, to spend more of his own money than he might like.

Gloated Steve Maviglio, once press secretary to the ousted Gov. Gray Davis and lately the press aide to Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, on his Weblog, “There goes your advantage as a walking, talking wallet. Your dreams of painting yourself as an outsider are gone. Your potential rival has just captured your Silicon Valley geographic and demographic base.”

That may or may not be true. Either way, the early book favorite for 2010 has to be Brown. Matured considerably since the last time he was governor, he is using global warming effectively to set up his campaign, all the while saying his moves have nothing to do with any campaign. He’s eligible to run again for his old office because he departed eight years before term limits existed.

He’s the most aggressive state official in the nation in trying to get the Bush administration to do more about climate change and his efforts always make headlines, in part because of his background.

“We have to hit the Environmental Protection Agency over the head with a two-by-four or we get no response at all under the current president,” he said the other day. “It’s almost as though a rogue element has taken charge there and is sabotaging federal law. This has nothing to do with politics because it will be years before whatever we start doing becomes reality.”

So Brown is as interesting a figure as ever. And Garamendi is as solid as ever. And Poizner and Westly are as rich as ever. And Angelides will be able to raise as much campaign cash as ever. And there may be more entrants. All of which should make this race a classic.