Governor Brown, Then and Now

Brown campaigning for governor in 1974. Courtesy of the UCLA Library's Los Angeles Times photographic archive.

On January 3, Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown, Jr. was sworn in as California's 39th governor, returning to the office he left 28 years ago.

The archives of Southern California's cultural institutions and private collectors, many of whom are members of L.A. as Subject, contain a wealth of materials related to the governor's political past. With Brown's resumption of the state's highest office, materials from an era that may seem like history to many now take on renewed importance, informing the story of Brown's first stint as governor and providing insight into Brown's personal and political nature.

CSU Dominguez Hills University ArchivesBrown is the son of another California governor, Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, who served from 1959 to 1967. In the rare photograph to the right, Brown is seen in a 1960 camping trip with his father to the Trinity Alps. The photo was recently discovered by California State University Dominguez Hills archivists who were processing the William E. Warne collection, which contains the papers of the elder Brown's Secretary of Agriculture.

Brown's first election as California governor, in 1974, is well-documented across many Southern California's archives. His opponent in the general election was state Controller Houston Flournoy, whose papers were recently processed by the USC Libraries as part of the Council on Library and Information Resources-funded project, Excavating L.A.: USC's Hidden Southern California Historical Collections. In a close election, Brown defeated Flournoy with fifty percent of the vote to his opponent's forty-seven. According to archivist Katie Richardson, who processed the collection, Flournoy blamed his loss on President Gerald Ford's pardoning of former President Richard Nixon, which came just weeks before California's general election and was thought to hurt Republicans at the polls.

Houston Flournoy campaign flyer. Courtesy USC Libraries Special Collections.

Four years later, Brown won re-election as governor over his Republican challenger, state Attorney General Evelle Younger. The photo below, from the UCLA Digital Library's Los Angeles Times photographic archive, depicts the largest event of Brown's 1978 re-election campaign, when he brought his campaign to UCLA's Westwood campus and addressed more than 5,000 students.

UCLA Digital Library - Los Angeles Times photographic archive

1978 was also a year marked by two high-profile ballot initiatives, both opposed by Brown.

Los Angeles Public LibraryThe first, titled the People's Initiative to Limit Property Taxation, appeared on the June 6 primary ballot as Proposition 13. The initiative's backers, including Howard Jarvis (seen here in a photograph from the Los Angeles Public Library's Photographs Collection) styled the measure a "taxpayers revolt". The proposition contained several provisions to limit taxation, including a one percent cap on property taxes, new rules about how to assess property values, and a requirement that any new or increased taxes be approved by two-thirds of the state legislature. Brown did not support the measure, but it passed overwhelmingly with 64.8% of the vote.

ONE National ArchivesBrown opposed another high-profile initiative in 1978. Proposition 6, also known as the Briggs Initiative, sought to ban gays and lesbians from serving as public school teachers in California. It also would have allowed for civil lawsuits against school employees seen to be supporting gay rights. As depicted in the 2008 film Milk, the campaign was a watershed moment for LGBT activists, and the fight against the initiative is well-documented across the collections of the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, which preserves the papers and ephemera of many prominent LGBT activists. The grassroots efforts of gay rights activists, as well as opposition from political leaders as diverse as President Jimmy Carter and then-presidential aspirant Ronald Reagan, as well as Governor Brown, helped defeat the initiative on November 7.

Photo by Pat Rocco. Courtesy ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives.

Metro Library & ArchiveAs governor, Jerry Brown emphasized public transit as a part of the state's transportation policy. In this photograph from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Library & Archive, Governor Brown is addressing a conference sponsored by the Southern California Rapid Transit District, a predecessor agency to today's Metro.

In 1982, Brown decided not to seek a third term as governor and instead launched a bid for to represent California in the United States Senate. The award-winning artist and photojournalist Shelley Gazin, whose personal photographic archive is a member of L.A. as Subject, covered his 1982 race, which Brown ultimately lost to San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson.

Brown during his 1982 Senate campaign. Courtesy of Shelley Gazin Archive

Perhaps the best record of Brown's first two terms are his official gubernatorial papers, which Brown donated to USC in 1985 and are now housed at the USC Libraries' East Library. Although his papers remain sealed for fifty years under both state law and an agreement with the university, Brown allowed several reporters access to the files during the recent 2008 campaign. News reports in the Sacramento Bee, The Daily Beast, and NBC Bay Area's Prop Zero blog give glimpses into the collection's contents.

Many of the archives who contributed the above images are members of L.A. as Subject, an association of more than 230 libraries, museums, official archives, personal collections, and other institutions. Hosted by the USC Libraries, L.A. as Subject is dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden stories and histories of the Los Angeles region. Our posts here will provide a view into the archives of individuals and cultural institutions whose collections inform the great narrative—in all its complex facets—of Southern California.

About the Author

A writer specializing in Los Angeles history, Nathan Masters serves as manager of academic events and programming communications for the USC Libraries, the host institution for L.A. as Subject.
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