California's political power couple collaborate, compromise

8:29 PM, May 20, 2013   |    comments
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Jerry Brown wasn't supposed to end up dating Anne Gust. She only intended to play matchmaker for a friend.

"I grew up a Republican in Michigan, and didn't think much about Jerry Brown in my life," she says of that time back in the early 1990s in San Francisco.

"In getting the two of them together, it sort of backfired on me."

Now more than two decades later, Anne and Jerry Brown are easily California's most powerful couple -- he as the governor, she as a first lady more involved behind the scenes with policy and politics than any other.

VIDEO: See Anne Gust Brown's News10 interview on life as first lady.

In an interview inside the governor's private Capitol office complex, the former corporate executive turned gubernatorial special counsel makes it clear she's comfortable with a role that stands in contrast to the ribbon cuttings and charitable causes handed to many of her predecessors.

Her husband's comfortable with it, too.

"It's not ceremonial," Gov. Jerry Brown says of her role in a joint interview with his wife in his Capitol courtyard. "It's certainly not ornamental. She plays a very substantive role, and I think that's great."

With only a small campaign staff, the two largely managed both his 2006 victory for attorney general and his 2010 win of a third term as governor. And little seems to have changed in the two years since that race, as he dealt with the state's fiscal mess, prisons, education, water, and more.

Brown is the first to admit that her strategic planning is an asset.

"She's certainly more orderly than I am," he says. "I don't have that particular style. I'm more -- what would you call it? -- extemporaneous."

Gust Brown also has, she says, long learned to accept a marriage that has always been in the public eye. Her husband, who was in his third campaign for the presidency when they began dating, spent only a few years out of office before winning the job of mayor in 1998 in Oakland, and now two subsequent statewide offices.

But she says he has a private side, too, and acknowledges that the balance can be tough in rough times -- including the governor's 2011 localized treatment for skin cancer and his 2012 prostate cancer, which was treated with radiation.

"I think that he doesn't want to use certain things as props," says the first lady. "I do feel protective of him," she says, "but I don't any more than would any other spouse."

"She's my partner," says the governor. "She's always there for me."

That includes when it comes to tackling things on his official gubernatorial to-do list. Brown says, for example, that it was his wife who suggested he end his January State of the State speech with the famous line from the children's book, The Little Engine That Could.

"That was her idea," he says. "It was perfect, because of high speed rail. It fit perfectly."

Brown is a politician who's known more for the clever aside than a broad smile. But as he sat alongside his wife in our conversation, smiling was mostly what he did. Unlike many first couples, the Browns don't seem to be working at their jobs as much as they are living them -- so much so, the first lady says vacations are rare.

"There's enough vacation time built into this kind of way of life," says the governor. "She doesn't see it that way."

"No," says Gust Brown. "No, I don't."

The couple don't have children, but they do have a third wheel that keeps them busy: a Welsh corgi named Sutter, who originally belonged to Brown's sister, former state treasurer and 1994 gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown.

"He's a little actor," says the governor as the dog rolls at his feet, interrupting the conversation.

Sutter seems to have helped disarm even the governor's most likely critics over the last couple of years. But it's clear that he sees his wife, who serves as his most trusted adviser, as the real key to his work... and his life.

"She's my partner, she's always there for me," says Brown. "It's just much better to be with someone you love than be by yourself, I can tell you that, because I've done both."

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