Once Reagan's Foe, Jerry Brown Declares a Holiday

After a long and overlapping history between the two California governors, Jerry Brown has declared tomorrow, Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday, a California state holiday.

"Ronald Reagan embodied the American dream," Brown said today. "As California's governor, he worked with members of the Legislature from across the political spectrum to advance this State's fiscal future, thereby elevating collaboration above ideology whenever the common good was at stake."

The political careers of the two men have overlapped since the early 1970s. Brown is California's new Democratic governor, but he's also its old governor. The first time Brown served in that role, he took over for Reagan after Reagan succeeded Brown's father, Edmund Gerald "Pat" Brown Sr. For a stretch of 14 years, from 1959 to 1983, California was run by Brown Sr., then Reagan, then Brown the younger.

Pat Brown was elected California's governor in 1958 and was reelected in 1962. Reagan challenged and defeated him in 1966, as the elder Brown sought a third term.

The elder Brown unsuccessfully tried to capitalize on Reagan's inexperience, campaigning on his own resume as governor. This LIFE magazine story from 1966 contrasted their styles.

"I wanted to be an actor once," Brown said at a campaign event. "I wanted to be in 'Death Valley Days'--heh, heh. And I was one of five hired for a play once and was the first one fired. So you got a good governor instead of a bad actor."

Reagan swatted away the criticisms and rode to victory on style, charisma, promises of small government, and portrayals of a degenerating society. He would claim that students were being told in classrooms to experiment with LSD.

"The man who currently has the job has more experience than anybody. That's why I'm running," Reagan would say.

After serving for eight years, Reagan decided against seeking a third term in 1974. Instead, he would challenge President Gerald Ford in the 1976 Republican presidential primary, ultimately losing.

In stepped then-secretary of state Jerry Brown. He would win the 1974 election and succeed Reagan in the governor's mansion, serving until 1983. By the time Brown took over, Reagan was onto his presidential run, recording his first presidential radio ads a few weeks after Brown occupied the governor's mansion.

When Gov. Jerry Brown won the Democratic nomination for Senate in 1982, President Reagan would campaign for his opponent, San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson. Reagan flew to Los Angeles in August and, speaking from a movie set at 20th Century Fox, told California voters that Brown had taken office with a budget surplus and "now he seeks to move on to greener fields leaving the state a few billion dollars in the hole."

If things had gone very, very differently, the two men could have run against each other for the White House. Just as Reagan had challenged the Republican President Ford four years earlier, Brown mounted a challenge to Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980, but his campaign never took off. Reagan would win the Republican nomination and the presidency that year.

So it's with all that history in mind that Brown, back in office a second time, issued this proclamation today declaring Reagan's 100th birthday a state holiday:

Ronald Wilson Reagan was born on February 6, 1911 to a family of modest means.  He served his country with honor and distinction as the 33rd Governor of California and as the 40th President of the United States of America.  Having risen from humble Midwestern beginnings to the towering heights of our democracy, Ronald Reagan embodied the American dream.
As California's governor, he worked with members of the Legislature from across the political spectrum to advance this State's fiscal future, thereby elevating collaboration above ideology whenever the common good was at stake.
As President of the United States, his enduring legacy is likewise defined by his eschewal of political dogmatism when confronted with the practical needs of the Nation.  To that end, he took bold steps to reduce the threat of nuclear war and worked with members of Congress from both parties to enact pragmatic fiscal reforms.
On February 6th, I ask that all Californians celebrate Ronald Reagan's legacy on the centennial anniversary of his birth.  His buoyant optimism and deep faith in America are as inspiring today as they were when he served the Nation as our President.
NOW THEREFORE I, EDMUND G. BROWN JR., Governor of the State of California, do hereby proclaim February 6th, 2011 as "Ronald Reagan Centennial Day".
IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of California to be affixed this 4th day of February 2011.
                                                                        EDMUND G. BROWN JR.
                                                                        Governor of California
                                                                        DEBRA BOWEN
                                                                        Secretary of State