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      Jerry Brown and Antonio Villaraigosa, Rivals?

      Dan Walters, the longest incumbent commentator on Sacramento politics, has written that Antonio Villaraigosa’s recent challenge to Gov. Brown on Prop 13 funding reminds him of my own relationship with Jerry Brown in an earlier era. The Sacramento Bee column is worth reading, at least for the sake of history.

      Dan Walters: Villaraigosa drops hint about ambitions

      Thirty-four years ago, as first-term Gov. Jerry Brown was preparing for his re-election campaign, Tom Hayden, the philosopher-prince of California's political left, dropped a bomb.

      Hayden published "an open letter to Jerry Brown," saying while he had endorsed Brown's re-election, "it would be easy to conclude that you have caved in to business pressures," warning that "day-by-day, it's getting harder to defend you," and suggesting that Brown's presidential ambition had overcome his progressive principles.

      Brown saw it as more than an idle commentary because Hayden had challenged Democratic U.S. Sen. John Tunney a year earlier and so weakened him that Republican S.I. Hayakawa grabbed his Senate seat.

      Implicitly, Hayden might have posed the same peril to Brown's re-election in 1978, so the governor quickly countered the threat by giving Hayden and his wife, actress Jane Fonda, some high-profile appointments and a solar power commission as political playthings.

      It worked brilliantly. A few years later, when Brown was running for the Senate himself, Hayden penned an essay called "In Defense of Jerry," to attest to Brown's liberal credentials, concluding that "Jerry Brown's mortal sin is that he is ahead of his time" – although Brown didn't win.

      Fast forward to 2011, when Brown once again occupies the governor's Capitol office. Brown was attending a conference at Lake Tahoe on Tuesday, leaving the political stage in Sacramento to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. And the speech Villaraigosa delivered to the Sacramento Press Club was reminiscent of that 1977 Hayden screed.

      Villaraigosa professed to "have great respect for Gov. Jerry Brown," but then sharply criticized the cuts in education and other spending that Brown and the Legislature enacted to balance the state budget, at least on paper.

      While the budget "patched the leaks," Villaraigosa said, "those patches blew huge holes in the budgets of families across our state," adding, "we can no longer afford to go on patching the leaks."

      Then the mayor dropped a direct challenge: "Governor Brown, I say we need to have the courage to test the voltage in some of these so-called 'third rail' issues, beginning with Proposition 13."

      He said Brown and the Legislature should create "a commission that would be bold" and seek "a big solution" that would include major reforms in education, public pensions and taxes and raise revenue.

      It sounded very much like a campaign speech, but Villaraigosa sidestepped questions on his political plans, even though he'll be forced out of the mayoralty in 2013 by term limits.

      Run for governor in 2014? Brown, now 73, hasn't said whether he'll run again. Run against Brown from the left?

      "Progressives have to start thinking – and acting – big again," Villaraigosa declared.

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