The Unsinkable Jerry Brown

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They may not be related in real life, but these days California Governor Jerry Brown seems a lot like another Brown, this one the unsinkable Molly.

You may remember that Molly Brown was the socialite and philanthropist who gained fame through heroic rescue efforts of passengers on the Titanic as the ship sank to the bottom of the Atlantic in 1912.

Prompting the nickname (and inspiring the Broadway show, "The Unsinkable Molly Brown"), she ignored the orders of crew members and did what she thought was right under the worst possible conditions. And she lived to tell about it.

So how does this relate to our current governor? Symbolically, perhaps in more ways than might meet the eye.

Jerry Brown is the captain of his own Titanic, otherwise known as California, a state that has for years been drowning in economic, social and political chaos. 

In his 18 months as governor, Brown has had to guide the state through the worst economy in memory, often sacrificing with his vetoes those who are most vulnerable to survive these turbulent times with massive cuts in the social safety net.

These painful decisions have been undertaken with the intent to show the voters that he's squeezed out every ounce of fat from their anti-new taxes diet.

Unable to gain any traction with obstinate legislative Republicans, Brown has turned to the people for support of his temporary tax hikes this November.

That's controversial enough, but he's also moved ahead on two expensive goals, first the high-speed rail project and now the peripheral tunnel proposal, barely looking over his shoulder in the process.

Why now?  Because in Brown's eyes all these efforts--new taxes and infrastructure repair--are part of California's desperately needed renewal.

Critics have cast Brown as a leader out of touch with California's limits. They argue that the state is already burdened with too many commitments and that public opinion does not support the governor's lofty goals. 

But Brown says California has no limits other than the lack of vision suffered by doubters.

He is resolute, charming, and demanding all at once. And he's not about to give up.

His is a daunting task filled with political risk, yet the governor believes.  Just like the unsinkable Molly Brown did.

Say what you want about Jerry Brown, but he's a force, an advocate, a leader.

And he may yet prevail.

Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst for NBC Bay Area.

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