SAN FRANCISCO – Jerry Brown, who was first elected governor of California when he was 36, wants another try at the job – 27 years after he left office.
The enigmatic Brown, who will turn 72 in April, announced Tuesday that he is officially in the race to succeed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. If elected to serve a third term, Brown would become California's oldest governor.
Brown, now the state's attorney general, continued to demonstrate his penchant for the unorthodox by announcing his entry into the race in a video posted on his Web site
without the usual fanfare of campaign speeches.
"Our state is in serious trouble and the next governor must have the preparation and the knowledge and the know-how to get California working again," Brown said, looking earnestly at the camera. "That's what I offer."
Despite not having formally entered the race until now, the expectation that he would be a candidate cleared the field of major Democratic challengers, leaving him virtually uncontested for the June primary.
Vying for the job on the Republican side are Meg Whitman
, a billionaire and former CEO of eBay, and Steve Poizner
, a wealthy former high-tech entrepreneur who is the state's Insurance Commissioner.
Both Republicans have tapped into their personal fortunes to finance their campaigns. Whitman has contributed nearly $40 million of her own money and Poizner has contributed nearly $20 million of his own funds.
Some Democrats have criticized Brown for lying low and letting the two Republicans dominate the early months of the race. But he has avoided becoming much of a target in the race while quietly raising more than $12 million for his campaign.
It's not clear why any of them would want the job. The state faces an unemployment rate of more than 12 percent, massive budget deficits, and a contentious political climate that makes forging agreement difficult.
Without naming names, Brown criticized Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and the Democratic-controlled Legislature for making the state's problems worse during the recession.
"I have seen our government from every angle, when it works and when it doesn't work, and it's no secret that Sacramento isn't working today," he said in the three-minute video. "The partisanship is poisonous. Political posturing has replaced leadership. And the budget is always late, it's always in the red and it's always wrong."
Brown argued that turning to an outsider who has no political experience would not be a successful strategy in this time of crisis.
"We've tried that and it doesn't work. We found that not knowing is not good," he said. "We need someone with an insider's knowledge but an outsider's mind, a leader who can pull people together."
Brown is eligible to run for governor again despite a California law restricting a governor to two terms. The provision was enacted after Brown left office, and so his first two terms do not count toward the limit.
The son of former Gov. Pat Brown, Jerry Brown became known for rejecting the trappings of office and dating rock star Linda Ronstadt while serving as governor from 1975 to 1983.
He was labeled "Gov. Moonbeam" for ideas that seemed flaky at the time. But in many ways he was a visionary, pushing for car-pool lanes and satellite communications and preaching an "era of limits" at a time when California's resources seemed unending.
In a speech to California Democrats two years ago hinting he would run again, Brown quipped, "They didn't call me Moonbeam for nothing. I worked hard to get that."
Brown noted that he dumped the bulletproof limousine of his predecessor, former Gov. Ronald Reagan, and racked up 240,000 miles on a blue Plymouth from the state motor pool during his eight years in office. "Now that's sustainability," he said.
While governor, he ran unsuccessfully for president in 1976 and 1980. After leaving office, the onetime Jesuit seminary student grew a beard and traveled to Japan to study Buddhism, to Mexico to study Spanish, and to India to work with Mother Teresa.
He ran one more time for president in 1992 on a platform of opposing the influence of wealthy special interests in politics. He pledged to accept contributions of no more than $100 -- a promise he is not making in this campaign.
Asked after that race whether campaign money had influenced him as governor, he replied: "You bet I was influenced. You think you can collect $10 million or $20 million and not let it affect your judgment? Your behavior is influenced and that is the vice that is destroying us."
In 1994, Brown began his political rehabilitation by hosting a radio talk show from his new home city of Oakland.
Defying expectations yet again in 1998, the onetime national political star ran for and won election to the mundane job of Oakland mayor. His agenda of fighting crime, improving education and revitalizing downtown Oakland met with mixed success, but he easily won again in 2002.
Brown was elected California attorney general in 2006. Last year, he took the unusual step of refusing to defend Proposition 8, the statewide initiative barring gays and lesbians from marrying. He argued instead that the courts should strike down the measure because it unconstitutionally denies a minority group its rights.
In his video announcement, Brown made the case that his experience makes him the best choice for the state's top post. He noted that during his eight years as governor, the state added 1.9 million jobs.
"At this stage of my life," he said, "I am prepared to focus on nothing else but fixing the state I love."