Gov. Jerry Brown sails into history books

By Carla Marinucci - San Francisco Chronicle

Jerry Brown - who once warned that the riptides of California politics should be navigated by paddling "a little bit on the left, then you paddle a little bit on the right" - is sailing into the history books this week and becoming California's longest serving governor.

As an energetic political wunderkind, he first took office in 1975 at age 36 as the nation's youngest governor. Today, he's an energetic, 75-year-old political silverback, in the midst of his third term and the nation's oldest governor.

Brown's service as governor will exceed the late Gov. Earl Warren, also a third termer, who resigned Oct. 5, 1953, to become chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Political watchers love to speculate over whether Brown, son of the late Gov. Edmund "Pat" Brown, will be the first California governor to run for a fourth term next year. If he does, as is expected, and wins, he and his father together will have governed California for a quarter of a century.

With a few exceptions, then-and-now comparisons of Brown's terms are not very different.

His famously frugal persona, for example, is backed up by Chronicle file photos from the 1970s. In those, Brown is seen wearing a tie he slips on for speeches and other appearances to this day.

His penchant for populist symbolism also hasn't wavered: In 1975, Brown rejected the trappings of office and drove a basic blue Plymouth sedan that endeared him to millions of working voters. Today, he and his wife, Ann Gust Brown, share their home with a Corgi named Sutter Brown - California's "first dog," and a brilliant ambassador for the everyman Democrat.

"He's never changed. He's never, ever changed," said former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who was the only elected official to endorse Brown - back then "a skinny, geeky kid," he said - in his first statewide campaign for California secretary of state.

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