(from the California
California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown
By Ethan Rarick
University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 2005
384 pages, photographs, hardcover, $29.95
Reviewed by Sara Stanley Baz
Graduate Student, University of Oregon, Eugene
In 1962 California became the most populous state in the
nation. In other ways as well, the balance of influence was shifting to the
west coast during the burgeoning 1950s and the tumultuous years of the
1960s. The University of California at Berkeley was recognized as the best
public university in the nation, civil rights bills strengthened the
position of minorities, and massive public works projects paved the way for
even more growth. Governor Edmund G. (Pat) Brown loved the state, its size,
its growth and its potential. He loved being in the middle of the political
good times of the 1950s and 1960s.
In California Rising: The Life and Times
of Pat Brown, Ethan Rarick tells of Brown’s political life in an extensively
researched narrative that is packed with information, yet comes across
primarily as a good story. He shows Brown as a typical politician in terms
of sensitivity to public opinion, but also as a man with principles for
which he ventured political capital.
As San Francisco’s District Attorney in
the 1940s, Brown instituted needed reforms in the prosecuting system,
appointed deputies from minority groups and promoted efforts to prevent
rather than punish crime. As Attorney General, he insisted that Japanese
Americans be allowed to reaquire liquor licenses they had lost when they
were interned and that Indians have access to welfare benefits on the same
basis as other citizens.
Pat Brown embraced progress. As governor
he promoted creation of the master plan for higher education that
regularized relations between the university and state college systems and
created a place in the system for everyone who wanted to go to college.
Brown pushed through a plan to build a massive dam on the Feather River and
send the water through an aqueduct to Southern California.
In the area of civil rights, Brown
supported the Fair Employment Practices Commission during his first term and
expanded his efforts to housing during his second. The Rumford Bill, which
passed over stiff opposition, cost Brown support but furthered his goal to
make California Number 1 in human relations.
During his second term, Brown lost
momentum. An attempt to end the death penalty failed in the legislature.
Although he commuted some sentences, he felt he had to follow the law. He
suffered personal anguish and lost political support over the Caryl Chessman
case (a man condemned to death for kidnapping) and others. The University of
California, which had been a source of pride, became a political liability
as the protests of the 1960s centered in the Berkeley campus.
From the vantage point of
the 21st century, Brown’s civil rights and education initiatives appear
forward-looking, the public works projects more controversial. Perhaps the
most progressive characteristic of Brown was his willingness to listen to
the younger generation. He was influenced by a phone call from his son Jerry
when dealing with the Chessman case. In his later years, a letter from his
grandson Charles Casey caused Brown to withhold support from an effort to
dam yet another California river at Auburn.