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Jerry Brown's Cowardly Exit
by ntuit
Saturday Jan 19th, 2019 2:46 PM
Brown took the cowards approach in his final acts which could have emptied California's death row - the largest in the nation.
On December 13th four former governors of US States in an op-ed in the New York Times newspaper called for Jerry Brown to commute the death row sentences for the 740 prisoners on the nation’s largest death row – California. Other Governors with less of a personal history than Brown’s against the death penalty have commuted all of the death sentences in their state. In the final, damning moment – Jerry Brown wouldn’t come through. And this may sum up the story of Jerry Brown – his legacy. Starting out as a progressive liberal with a twist of conservative fiscalism, Jerry captured the heart of so many liberals and progressives of the 1970s and 1980s. He had long history of being against the death penalty and had been involved in anti-death penalty protests back to the days of his father Edmund G. Brown’s governorship. He put progressive people of diversity into positions of power including California Chief Justice Rose Bird – who would become a lighting rod of criticism from pro-death penalty elements in California. One could write “right wing” in front of pro-penalty elements in the last sentence but that is not exactly accurate and is part of the problem with what happens with the death penalty in California.

In California, Brown’s Supreme Court nominee Rose Bird was viciously attacked and driven from the State Supreme Court due to her progressive positions on the death penalty issue and the overturning of several death penalty sentences. In 2016, in this overwhelmingly Democratic State, voters rejected Proposition 62 to repeal the death penalty and also voted to expedite the process with approval of Proposition 66. The California Prison Guards Union, California Highway Patrolmen’s Union and the LAPD Union all supported the rejection of Proposition 62. The voters of California – not all of whom could be classified as ultra-conservative – had put their stamp of approval on the death penalty. Let’s see – we want to save the children – but when they grow up bad – we want to be able to execute them – even as so many people have been exonerated by DNA testing.

Many of the liberal progressive people who supported Jerry Brown have remained loyal and supportive to him over the years up until today. Brown, however, does not seem to have shown the same loyalty but in a shrewd political maneuver has morphed rightward so he could pick up the votes and support of not only his long time loyal left progressive followers but that of moderates and some conservatives as well. Jerry Brown of this century is not the Jerry Brown of last century. This might be the dilemma that so many progressives in the Democratic party find themselves in today. Many of the people they put into office hoping for progressive work have morphed into centrists or those pandering to less progressive financial interests who have infected the American body politic. Progressives in the Democratic Party seem to be showing some insight and movement that they can no longer trust many of the people they have continued to support over the decades.

What happened to Jerry Brown and why couldn’t he make this bold move at the end of his political career? In some respects, Brown was holding his finger to the wind and he felt the waives of conservative neo-liberal positions in the body politic. Within the Democratic Party there have been strong neo-liberal and centrist positions and examples such as Governor Bill Clinton’s returning to Arkansas during his presidential campaign to preside over the execution of a mentally deficient inmate. Other Democratic Governors’ – particularly in Southern states – have signed off on death warrants and presided over numerous executions.

As for Brown, he has continually been showing a pro development conservative side to himself highly evidenced during his terms as Mayor Oakland. Perhaps we have here an opportunistic politician who rode the waive of power by following instead of leading. But perhaps the problem is also – “we the people” – the “electorate” - who have supported much of the regressive, neo-liberal agendas of American politics of the past 35 years.

Jerry’s father regretted the executions he permitted and even wrote a book detailing his revulsion of the death penalty. There are some strange threads that run in the Brown family history, that lead to some interesting questions. Jerry Brown’s grandfather ran a gambling joint in the back of his store located in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. Edmund “Pat” Brown has some history of involvement with and defending mobsters in mid-century San Francisco. He would also go on to be involved in business deals in the Indonesian nation run by the corrupt Suharto regime. One of Jerry’s early political advisors and fundraisers was Richard Silberman, an executive who was eventually sent to prison for laundering Columbian drug money. There are also alleged ties between Jerry Brown and Sidney Korshak , a Hollywood attorney who was involved with mob figures.

Like so many American politicians, Jerry Brown was a kind of prince born to the estate of power. Groomed at St. Ignatius prep school in San Francisco, he would have a career as a statesman with little experience in the real world that most of us live in. In that way, he has a similarity to our current president and to his gubernatorial successor, Gavin Newsome, who also comes from a politically powerful family in San Francisco. In the end, Jerry Brown is a celebrity figure who used his family name to enter politics and leaves a very mixed record for the progressive agenda.

The end of result is that hundreds of people are left on California’s death row and many will continue to sit there for decades awaiting an unsure fate. To most people this would be cruel and unusual punishment with a sentence of both imprisonment for an undetermined period and another sentence of possible death. It is just another sorry example of a nation mired in reactionary conservative thinking and politics with no vision for a better, more progressive society.

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