OAKLAND — To overcome what he terms a "juggernaut of wealth" that he will face in the fall against his Republican opponent, Jerry Brown will have to execute an almost perfect strategy to win this fall, he told Bay Area News Group on Wednesday.
A day after announcing his candidacy for the governor's race, Brown spoke of the challenges he faces in overcoming the personal fortune that either Meg Whitman, the billionaire ex-CEO of eBay, or multi-millionaire Steve Poizner, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur-turned state insurance commissioner, will bring to the fall campaign.
In an interview at his Oakland campaign headquarters, an expansive exposed brick loft near Jack London Square, Brown also addressed how he would confront pressures from both the right and left to solve the state's economic crisis in an approach he says makes him independent of partisan forces.
He also waxed philosophical about the limits of state government, signaling that his reputation for personal austerity would guide his approach to governing.
And in a display of vigor meant perhaps to signal that age should not be a campaign issue, the 71-year-old Brown did 10-1/2 pullups on a bar hanging over a passageway.
"I've never been fitter," he said.
Though he has no opponent in the Democratic primary, Brown said he will be active in preparing for a fall campaign and vigilant against expected shots from Whitman and Poizner.
"You have to know your opponent, know the terrain, know the conditions in order to overcome such a juggernaut of wealth," Brown said. "We'll have to understand the dynamics of this campaign precisely and we'll have to respond in an almost error-free way to be successful."
Brown, who was governor from 1975-1983, said that his political history, which dates back 40 years, can be armor against the high-powered assault that he's already begun to feel from the Republican campaigns.
"I have a history of being there, of doing things that are real," he said, "juxtaposed against the unreality of advertising, marketing and what they're now calling branding, that may engender in the public some doubt or suspicion.
"So, I would say that the reality of my life, which has been exposed to the people of California for so many years, has a certain power and a certain credibility that may well triumph over what will essentially be a consultant-crafted and Wall Street-paid for kind of propaganda barrage."
He said he is invigorated by the challenge facing him.
"I've never been so excited," he said. "I'm very energized by this. It doesn't make any sense. I just find it fascinating. This is a creative process."
In unveiling his campaign a day earlier with a webcam statement and an interview with CNN's Larry King, Brown positioned himself as above the partisan bickering.
He said Wednesday that he will have to say "no" more than he likes to Democrats who want to protect eviscerated social programs, but also to Republicans who insist that tax cuts and deregulation are the only way to bring California's economy back to life.
"We're down $20 billion and we need revenue for the minimum, for prisons, for schools, for health care, for fish and game wardens," he said, "so, further erosion of revenues would be difficult."
He said he is open to evaluating the state's tax structure, "what would make it more stable, what would facilitate more business investment."
He does not buy Republican calls for outright deregulation, saying their mantra that "business people should be left to do whatever they want" was demonstrably proven false by the Wall Street collapse.
Fostering such investments as solar and geothermal energy in Los Angeles and up the coast, however, is the kind of "regulatory underbrush" he is interested in clearing.
"No one has ever passed laws and been around 35 years later to see what worked and what didn't work," he said. "That's a very powerful lesson going forward in assessing what new laws should be enacted."
Brown played down expectations that a Democratic governor would automatically increase government spending, even in light of $60 billion in cuts that have been made over the past two years.
"Even increasing programs for people in need will only meet a fraction of the needs," he said. "What is the state role and how much can we do? We can only do a part of what is needed. So we have to be very careful of what we spend our money on. It's not possible to socially engineer the end of the social stratification that we have. So we gotta work at it in a prudent, thoughtful way, putting our money in the highest yielding places. So, that's never going to satisfy everybody."
He said he will likely have to take on the soaring costs of pensions and health benefits, though he would not do it in the autocratic way that he said Whitman and Poizner would take.
"We'll work with (the unions)," he said. "The pensions and health benefits have to be actuarily sound. But we negotiate. Is it easy? No. We're in hard times."
He scoffed at Whitman's plan to cut 40,000 state jobs, saying her consultants need to do more research. There are only 100,000 jobs that are paid by general fund; 60,000 are in corrections, which likely would go untouched to avoid the specter of releasing prisoners.
"If you eliminate (the rest) there is no government, it doesn't exist, no fish and game, no governor's office," he said.
Government is a mechanism that can do some things in a limited way, he said.
"There's a sense on the part of some people that state government can right every wrong and reengineer the society we now live in, and I don't believe that's true," he said.
"We can make things better, we can take the side of the underdog, we can make sure the powerful pay what they should and live within certain rules. But at the end of the day, we still have a very imperfect world we live in."
Brown, who pushed single payer health care during his presidential run in 1992, said he's open to the idea of some form of public health care reform, though he does not see enough money to pay for it now.
Reach Steven Harmon at 916-441-2101.