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Jerry Brown meets the press

April 17, 2010 | 12:54 pm

California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown’s post-speech news conference was a reminder of just how different the candidates for governor are. Brown’s 15-minute briefing was far shorter than Meg Whitman’s and more light-hearted than Steve Poizner’s at the California Republican Party's convention last month in Silicon Valley.

But Brown’s sometimes-rambling answers underscored the things people either love or hate about him, exposing a learned mind that appears well-stocked but a bit disheveled.

It was all on display Saturday at the California Democratic Party’s convention. Brown turned an obscure question about an electricity project in San Diego into a five-minute filibuster that covered the history of the California Environmental Quality Act, “regulatory underbrush” and the Political Reform Act.

Brown was confrontational but jocular as he challenged assumptions of reporters’ questions. When a reporter said Brown was avoiding specific policy statements, he cut the question off and said pointedly, “I don’t agree with that at all.” That turned into a soliloquy about Richard Lugar, farm workers, the Federal Reserve and the California Conservation Corps.

Another reporter’s question became “a very illegitimate fear that is shared by very few people,” in Brown’s estimation.

He compared himself to Harry Truman, and said that if his Republican opponents had criticisms of him “they can say it to my face” in a debate.

When told both Poizner and Whitman were open to Brown’s idea of some pre-primary debates, Brown quipped, “Well, then, the sherpas will meet next week” to hammer out the details.

A question about local government evoked mention of the “papal principal of subsidiarity” and a claim that the issue does not belong to the GOP.

“Some Republicans say that’s theirs,” Brown said. “I say that’s my tradition of Christian humanism.”

Brown seemed to feed off the exchange, gathering speed and momentum as the news conference wore on. Reporters laughed at his quips and Brown was clearly enjoying himself. It seemed a shame that his press spokesman, Sterling Clifford, cut it short just as Brown seemed to be hitting his stride -- and just when reporters were about to get a real answer or two.

“We’ll do more of these,” Brown promised before ducking into a room full of cheering devotees, his security detail closing the door behind him.

-- Anthony York