Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Letter from California-February 28, 2005

Years ago, when “Governator” was just a typo, California had another colorful chief executive in Sacramento, Jerry Brown. He never battled shape-changing robots from the future and he wasn’t Danny Devito’s long-lost twin, but he did date Linda Ronstadt during the 70’s. Flashing back to some of her album covers from the era (I think one involves the wearing of roller skates), that’s not too bad.

He also had a nickname: Governor Moonbeam. He got this name for the generally hippified approach he took to running California, rather the opposite of our current Humvee driving Chief. Brown got to be known as a little bit out there, and that really takes some doing in California. If you govern Montana, for example, you could get the nickname Moonbeam for having a salad instead of fries with your pulled pork sandwich, but in California, it’s no easy feat to make yourself stand out as a Space Cadet. Although personally well liked, not everyone thought Brown was serious enough for the Governor’s office, and perhaps his critics had a point. His major achievements while in office include dating Linda Ronstadt.

Most former Governors of California go one of two places when they leave office: the White House or their house. For that reason, some people were surprised when Jerry Brown ran for and won the office of Mayor of the City of Oakland several years ago. Oakland, if you’re not familiar with the place, can be thought of as Detroit with nice weather. It’s like New York City without all the things everyone likes about New York City, plus some palm trees. It’s a tough town with a reputation for high crime and poverty. Just the place for a Moonbeam Mayor.

So imagine everyone’s surprise when Jerry Bear started to get tough. He’s got more street credibility as a total softie than anybody west of Jimmy Carter, but once mayor, he decided enough was enough where shenanigans in the streets of Oakland was concerned. When college kids lay down in front of traffic to protest…something a couple years ago, Brown sent in the police, gave warnings and then laid on the rubber bullets. When the current Gov. went looking for friends to help him stop a proposition last fall that would have made the “Three Strikes Law” only apply to people whose last names start with Q and only on alternate Tuesdays, Brown stood up with Arnold and helped defeat the measure. Why, there’s a rumor that Brown travels the street by night in disguise as Captain Moonbeam, looking for citizens in trouble and criminals who must be brought to justice.

That rumor is completely false of course, and I know this because I made it up just now. Still, he’s been uncharacteristically, at least to those of focused on the “moonbeam” and Linda Ronstadt part of his resume, tough on Oakland’s bad guys. Recently, he launched a program where some convicted criminals could qualify for an early parole if they agreed to a curfew. He got the idea by observing that half of all Oakland’s murder victims were either on probation or on parole and most of them got killed at night. The San Francisco Chronicle quoted Brown as saying, “if we could find a way to keep them home at night, they wouldn’t be getting shot.” Of course, if you’re just a regular Oaklander who happens to work the graveyard shift at the Jack in the Box on 64th and Telegraph, you probably don’t mind that these villains are home watching late night reruns of Cheers while you’re counting the cash drawer at 2 AM either. As a result of this and other measures, Oakland’s homicide rate has dropped dramatically in a few short years. Moonbeam power!

Not everyone is happy about all this, and it isn’t just the criminals who are complaining. Honestly, though, other critics who’ve given Brown so much grief about all this should really consider switching to decaf. The Chronicle quotes one of them as saying that these probations are like laws during slavery that “prevented people of color from moving freely in their communities.” Since Oakland is a predominantly black and Hispanic city, I thought it was all those vicious crooks on the streets that were causing people of color not to be able to move freely through their communities. Silly me. Brown’s program doesn’t discriminate against African-Americans or Hispanic-Americans, but it is real pain in the butt for Criminal-Americans.

Back when I lived at the corner of 64th and Telegraph, I used to think twice about taking a late night stroll around the neighborhood, but usually just did it anyway. On the other hand, I didn’t have to close the Jack in the Box. Dangerous duty, that was, and you really shouldn’t have to risk your life for fast food. For a chance to date Linda Ronstadt in 1978, maybe, but not for Jumbo Jacks and curly fries. Living in Oakland, I remember feeling that everyone would have supported a politician that made the place a little safer.

I just never would have guessed that person would be Jerry Moonbeam Brown. It goes to show you should never judge a person by the nickname.


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