Editorial: Moonbeam for A.G.? Why not?

It is so tempting to deride the candidacy of Edmund G. Brown Jr. Surely, contend his foes, he is a walking rerun of “That ‘70s Show.” Governor Moonbeam. Buddhist economist. Public ascetic. Squire of pop stars.

We could go on: Unsuccessful presidential candidate. Radio talker. Blogger. Mayor of Oakland. Candidate for attorney general.

It’s easy as well to celebrate Jerry Brown’s candidacy — for all the same reasons. The man’s career has enriched us because he has engaged the public life in such surprising ways and because of his Socratic style of challenging assumptions across the ideological spectrum.

Are these reasons to endorse his candidacy? No. The role of California’s top legal officer requires discipline and focus, not a deficit of attention. And yet, The Examiner does endorse Brown because, over a span of nearly four decades, he has mastered himself to the extent anyone can. There will be no want of competence at the top of the state’s legal bureaucracy.

His opponent, Republican Chuck Poochigian, also can claim a distinguished, if shorter, career in public life. He was known as a principled state legislator. He intends to perform, if elected, as a no-nonsense hardliner on crime. An Attorney General Poochigian worries us not at all.

Poochigian has challenged Brown, an ardent opponent of the death penalty, to assure voters he’ll not block executions. Brown has promised he’ll enforce state law. He demands to know if Poochigian, a pro-life politician, will secure a woman’s right to abort a fetus. Poochigian vows to respect “settled law.”

Indeed, both issues are so settled that politicians should stop using them as wedges. No woman’s pursuit of an abortion is endangered by the next attorney general. And no murder victim’s family should feel satisfaction denied — except bya macabre and protracted appeals process.

We do hope Jerry Brown’s expansionist view of the law can be tempered by the wisdom he picked up in the streets of Oakland. There Brown found some success as a crime fighter, adopting popular, common-sense methods of discouraging major crime by targeting petty criminals at the point of commission. Late in his second term the city’s homicide rate did spike, but serious students of the situation do not hang that tragic turn on Brown.

The incumbent attorney general, Bill Lockyer, expanded the law outrageously to fit his ambitions. Brown, in many respects his party’s conscience, seems to have abandoned the upward political trajectory of his youth, responding now to a more serious calling. We trust he’ll not use his office to grandstand against, say, the automakers.

Brown should recall that E.F. Schumacher slogan he popularized early in his career, namely that “Small is beautiful.” The law can be beautiful, too — if kept modestly small.

Part of The San Francisco Examiner's 2006 election coverage.

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