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Jerry Brown and the great plane debate

June 30, 2010 |  4:55 pm

On the campaign trail, Jerry Brown extols his old image as a tightwad. In 1974, when Brown was governor,  he opted to live in a small apartment across from the Capitol instead of a sprawling new governor's mansion. He famously drove a beat-up blue Plymouth instead of riding in the governor's chauffeured Cadillac. Brown talks about these things repeatedly on the campaign trail as he reintroduces himself to California voters.

He has also grown fond of telling anyone who will listen that he ordered the state to get rid of the governor's executive jet. A two-minute film that debuted at April's state Democratic Party Convention in Los Angeles features a narration from a piece on Brown by the late Walter Cronkite. Cronkite says Brown "sold the governor's executive jet and travels commercially."

Since then, online reports have said it was in fact Brown's predecessor, Ronald Reagan, who sold the plane. Meanwhile, a new radio ad paid for by the Service Employees International Union says Brown "sold off the state's jet" as governor. But this 1967 piece in the Modesto Bee seems to indicate that it was in fact Reagan who sold the  jet, Grizzly. In the story, Reagan spokesman Lyn Nofziger is quoted as saying Reagan decided to sell the aircraft as part of wide-ranging state government cutbacks.

So, what gives? Our intrepid investigative team has gotten to the bottom of this -- we think.

Since the fate of the free world apparently hangs on this question, we asked Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford to clear the air once and for all. According to Clifford, the state had a jet on lease after the Grizzly was sold. Brown ended the lease, Clifford said, therefore ridding the state of the jet.

Brown parses his words accordingly. On KTTV-TV Channel 11's "Good Day LA" on Wednesday, Brown said, "I didn't live in the mansion, I got rid of the jet. I mean, I'm pretty frugal." (Brown's comment about the jet comes at about the 1:30 mark). Brown also said he "hasn't even started yet" in terms of campaign spending and that he's "not going to start for a while." When asked about Whitman's ads attacking Brown, the attorney general replied, "Did you see those ads when I was young and I had all that hair? I thought I looked pretty good."

-- Anthony York in Sacramento

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