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Arts & Culture

California State Of Mind: The Legacy Of Pat Brown

Pat Brown (right) gives a presentation about the Water Project.
Courtesy of Sascha Rice & Hilary Armstrong
Pat Brown (right) gives a presentation about the Water Project.

Airs Monday, June 18, 2012 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

In the turbulent 1960s, an ordinary man rose to face extraordinary challenges and powerfully shaped the future of modern California. Told from his granddaughter's perspective, a dynamic American dream story unfolds in this unique portrait of Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown — "the Godfather of Modern California."


View highlights from the Pat Brown years.

Award‑winning filmmaker Sascha Rice creates an intimate, inside look at a California icon, the father of Governor Jerry Brown — and the making of a political dynasty. Rice provides compelling anecdotes and her perspective provides great structure for the amazing archival footage and commentary from figures ranging from Richard Nixon to Dianne Feinstein.


A simple chronicle of Pat's sweeping successes paints an impressive portrait: the Fair Housing Act, the Fair Employment Act, the Master Plan for Higher Education, which arguably made the state's public college and university system the best in the world, the building of highways, and what historians have called the "most significant public water project in world history."

How did he do it? Why wasn't he paralyzed by bipartisan politics? How did he persuade lawmakers to pass the then highly progressive legislation? How was he able to win the public's approval to raise the necessary taxes to build massive public works?

If Brown were alive today, he might answer that it was "responsible liberalism" — a phrase he coined. I believe it was a brand of politics whose character and spirit provide a viable template for what we can expect from leaders today.

Pat Brown's drive to build the Water Project offers a window into his political style at its best. This odyssey tested his leadership ability on a political obstacle course of voters, the legislature, federal government, and corporate interests.

Pat sailed through, riding the momentum generated by his genuine love of people, his relentless optimism, and his bounding faith that government could be an agent of progress. He believed in his task, took risks, made deals, and tirelessly campaigned to achieve it.


Champions of Brown would sooner forget the dramatic events surrounding Pat's oversight of the death penalty case of Caryl Chessman, which generated international attention and unleashed a political backlash from all sides.

Still, the unfolding episode offers a fascinating look at the vulnerabilities of leadership to the destructive potential of mass hysteria and media spin. Pat openly admitted his struggle to uphold a law to which he was morally opposed, then was branded a "tower of Jell-O," despite the fact that while he was in office, he commuted more death sentences than any California governor.

When the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley rocked the country, and the eruption of violence and destruction that was the Watts Riots brought the fight for civil rights to California, Brown lost his political footing again.

A telegenic Ronald Reagan stepped onto the world stage and blamed the civil unrest on Brown's liberal politics, which effectively led to Pat's crushing defeat. Pat's departure signaled an end to an era of expansive liberal government and foreshadowed a conservative movement that continues to this day.

Did Pat's leadership style fail him in the face of a new cultural era, or does the spirit and character of Brown's leadership have relevance today?

"California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown" is on Facebook.

Trailer: California State Of Mind: The Legacy Of Pat Brown
Photo Slideshow: California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown