Brown enters statewide politics at age 32, winning election as California’s secretary of state on a platform of political reform and curbed government activism: “You don’t have to do things,” he tells a reporter upon his victory. “Maybe by avoiding doing things you accomplish a lot.”
In his years as governor, Brown launches few big education initiatives but fights hard against Proposition 13, a cap on local property taxes that leaves schools desperate for cash after its 1978 approval by voters. “It’s a rip-off, a legal morass,” Brown says before the vote, “and is, in reality, a long-term tax increase, not a tax eduction.”
Brown loses race for a U.S. Senate seat from California to Republican Pete Wilson and soon begins a 16-year hiatus from elected office that includes stints studying Buddhism in Japan and working with Mother Teresa in India. “Instead of being overcome by an impossible task, she has set the example of how to combat misery,” he says after his stint in Calcutta.
In his third run for the White House, Brown takes up the cause of poor schools, vowing to try to overturn a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states are not required to equalize spending among school districts. His campaign goes nowhere and puzzles Democratic leaders, one of whom remarks: “If Jerry Brown is the answer, it must be a damned peculiar question.”
After quitting the Democratic party and registering as an independent, Brown is elected mayor of Oakland and promises action on schools. “Parents cannot be expected to wait forever. . . .” he says in his inaugural speech. “I stand ready to work with the leadership of Oakland’s schools.”