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Moonbeam sonata
Can Jerry Brown do it in California?

Date published: 2/8/2013

ALMOST four decades ago, during his first two terms as governor of California, Jerry Brown began earning the adhesive moniker "Gov. Moonbeam." From his fascination with space (including a suggestion that California launch its own satellite), to what he called "Buddhist economics," to his courtship of singer Linda Ronstadt, Mr. Brown proved too unconventional to succeed in his three tries for the presidency.

Now, at an age when many are content to hone their putting, Mr. Brown, 74, is enjoying a political renaissance during his third term as governor. Strangely enough, he seems to fit in better than he did back in the 1970s. Either he is less odd or the challenging times demand more nontraditional solutions.

Take public education--a high priority for Mr. Brown and for his late father, Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, who governed the state in the '60s. The younger Mr. Brown is blending traditional liberal and conservative approaches into something uniquely his.

Having pushed through a tax hike, the governor can offer California's vaunted but cash-starved colleges and universities more state money--their first such windfall in years. But with those extra dollars as leverage, he also is pushing for a tuition price freeze, more teaching time from professors, and less money for educrats. It's a package that reflects the eclecticism of a politician who ran to the left of Bill Clinton for the 1992 Democratic presidential nod, yet was viewed as more fiscally conservative than the man he succeeded as governor, Ronald Reagan.

Boil it down and Mr. Brown's approach to public education has a nice flavor--more dollars for a top priority, but more accountability for how those dollars are spent to serve the public.

Will California once again be a positive model for the nation rather than a synonym for fiscal disaster? Stranger things have happened in the career of "Gov. Moonbeam."