For nearly a half century, Democrat Jerry Brown has been a fixture of California politics, helping to shape key environmental, energy and fiscal policies. Brown's unprecedented fourth term as governor ends next month, and he leaves a legacy of championing efforts to fight climate change and restoring the state's economic health.
Brown, who succeeded Ronald Reagan as governor in 1975, has been called a centrist, populist, pragmatist, doomsayer and trailblazer. He has served as the 34th and 39th governor of California, led the state's Democratic Party, and served as mayor of Oakland. He also ran for president in 1976, 1980 and 1992, never getting beyond the primary stage.
But the liberal darling grabbed headlines when he dated rock star Linda Ronstadt in the 1970s and 80s. His pop culture bona fides were burnished when he was lampooned in Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury" comic strip. He remained a bachelor until 2005, when at age 67 he married corporate executive Anne Gust. He's continued to be a champion of the left, becoming one of President Donald Trump's most vocal critics.
California — which has the world's fifth-largest economy — had a population of about 21.5 million people in 1975 when Brown was in his first year as governor. It is approaching 40 million people as he prepares to leave. California's budget has increased roughly tenfold since Brown's first term, growing from around $20 billion in 1975 to more than $200 billion in 2018. He will be remembered for bringing California back from the brink of financial ruin.
Yet Brown's generations-spanning tenure as arguably the most important figure in the California's modern political scene means he has also accumulated his fair share of critics on both sides of the aisle – even when it comes to what is widely seen as his signature issue, the environment.
"He's tried to walk that fine line and he's gotten a lot of grief from the environmental community from some people that just want to keep all the oil in the ground," said Allan Zaremberg, president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce.
One of the state's most iconic political leaders, Brown is set to relinquish the governorship of California on Jan. 7 to Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom.
Brown has called the 51-year-old Democrat "the right man at the right time." Brown joked in 2016 about running for a fifth term as governor, although term limits passed in 1990 make him ineligible. Unless that law changes, he will probably be the last to ever serve four terms.