Jerry Brown reinvents himself, again

If you think Madonna was the only celebrity in Fresno, Calif., last week whose career has been based on a reinvented persona, you weren’t paying attention. The day after the Material Girl left town, Jerry Brown showed up at the police union headquarters and slipped into his latest reincarnation: Super Crime Fighter.

The new role has been so successful that he was endorsed for attorney general by the Fresno Police Officers Association _ in the hometown of Republican opponent Chuck Poochigian.

I was stunned when I read about the endorsement. When Brown was governor, California cops used to hate him for his lefty positions on crime that included appointing death penalty opponent Rose Bird to the state Supreme Court.

So now begins the latest saga of a two-term governor who once dated Linda Ronstadt and earned the label of Governor Moonbeam after suggesting that California have its own space program.

Because Brown has darted in so many directions, it might be helpful to review the public record. Let’s fast forward from the Jesuit seminary days to 1982 when he attempted to jump from the governorship to the U.S. Senate. He lost to Republican Pete Wilson, and it was clear that California voters had tired of the Jerry Brown act.

During a self-imposed political exile, Brown traveled the world, and subsequently ended up in Calcutta, India, and worked with Mother Teresa. Did that suggest to him there was a higher calling than politics? Not exactly. That experience apparently was so head-clearing that he decided to run for president. He’s done that three times. After another unsuccessful presidential run, you’d think he’d be through with politics.

Wrong. Brown decided to go off to Oakland and become mayor of a city that needed a lot of help. Now he’d be closer to the people, so would serving at the local level finally quench Brown’s political thirst? Again, you haven’t been paying attention. After being diagnosed with PADD (political attention deficit disorder), Brown decided to raise his political profile by running for statewide office again.

So at age 68, Brown wants to be California’s attorney general. It may not make sense to the rest of us, but it apparently makes sense to him. And if Brown gets elected in November, you can bet that he’ll run for president again. He can’t help himself.

On Tuesday, Brown won the Democratic nomination for attorney general by easily defeating Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. Poochigian, Fresno’s favorite son, was unopposed for the Republican nomination.

Brown quickly showed that he’s not going to take the campaign for granted and the day after the election began blitzing the state. One of the stops was Fresno where he picked up the backing of the 1,100-member police union. That was an endorsement that most Fresno folks thought would go to Poochigian, not only for parochial reasons but also because he has a stellar crime record in the Legislature.

In the political gamesmanship category, the FPOA endorsement was an in-your-face move by Brown. But this was more about Brown being a union supporter than being a crime fighter.

Now contrast the ex-governor, who the paparazzi used to chase around, with Poochigian, who isn’t known much outside the San Joaquin Valley. He’s squeaky clean, a hard worker and knows the nuts and bolts of public policy. But Poochigian doesn’t exactly ooze charisma. So how does he compete?

Poochigian plans to use Brown’s celebrity against him, dragging out all the oddball things that he’s done over the past three decades. That could work. On election night, Poochigian issued a statement that framed his campaign theme:

“The choice will be between my years of proven, steadfast and focused leadership on criminal justice and family safety concerns versus my opponent’s pattern of unpredictable and erratic approaches to serious public policy issues.”

Running unopposed in the primary election gave Poochigian the opportunity to snipe at Brown. His campaign sent out a steady stream of attacks on Brown and problems that have surfaced in Oakland. But that was merely a warm-up act for the general election.

Now it’s time to get serious.

Over the next five months Poochigian will campaign against a one-time seminary student, ex-governor, ex-presidential candidate, ex-Senate candidate, mayor and disciple of Mother Teresa. Of course, the resume may have changed since we last checked. Let’s just say he’s running against the same old Jerry Brown.