Jerry Brown has always had a unique way of dealing with the press.
To hear other Capitol reporters tell it, he is at times prickly, often highly unorthodox (last spring, he challenged a reporter to an impromptu pull-up contest), and generally more accessible and candid than most politicians at his level. Sometimes, he returns press calls personally rather than dispatching an aide.
Much has also been made this year of his shoestring campaign press operation, which features one official spokesman, compared to Meg Whitman's legions. Famously unscripted, he has also put his foot in his mouth from time to time.
So keeping all that in mind, if you scan a few pages into Brown's newly released budget plan [PDF], you'll find an interesting, though not entirely unexpected suggestion:
I will make immediate cuts, especially in the areas of press and communications, lawyers and other staff who are duplicative with agency and department personnel. I will also reduce other operational costs and discretionary spending, like overtime and travel. I will require all other state departments and agencies to do the same. Any budget I sign will require similar reductions on the part of the legislature and the Judiciary and their respective staffs.
Brown campaign spokesman Sterling Clifford said yesterday that the budget plan is not prescribing that individual departments cut their press budgets – only that he would call on them to generally reduce discretionary spending.
But by by specifically pitching cuts to the governor's press operation, Brown seems to be drawing on a strategy that apparently rankled at least one politico during his two terms as governor in the 1970s and early 1980s, a document from his gubernatorial archives suggests.
In a letter addressed to Brown confidant Richard Silberman in 1978, one of Bobby Kennedy's former press aides rails against Brown's reluctance to staff what he perceived to be an inadequate press operation, which the letter refers to as "amateur."
"The fact that Jerry has not reached out for the best people in the area of media relations is simply not very reassuring about his understanding of the press (and I know all the stories about what an alleged wizard he is in this area)," the letter reads.
It goes on to warn: "You can, of course, take the position that Jerry has survived quite well, thus far. But that would be foolish and would ignore a reality that sooner or later will do him much harm."
The letter, written by George Mitrovich, who also served as press secretary to senators Charles Goodell and Harold Hughes, offers several suggestions for improving Brown's press operation, including one that reads:
Speech writing should fall under the press secretary. The time has come for Jerry Brown to start giving serious, substantive speeches and to stop 'winging-it.' The press secretary can offer direction in this regard.
Earlier this year, Democrats raised similar concerns about Brown's free-wheeling speaking style after a rambling speech in February at a Sierra Club event in San Francisco.
It stands to reason that after the departure of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – whose robust press operation must contend with his status as both a politician and worldwide supercelebrity – cutbacks in the governor's press office are to be expected. But singling out PR professionals for cuts provides yet another a telling detail about Brown and his unorthodox ways of tending to the media.