WASHINGTON -- While Ross Perot loosens his fat bankroll for costly television "infomercials" designed to build a massive self-sustaining political organization, another maverick of the 1992 presidential campaign -- Jerry Brown -- is regrouping with his own smaller organization, without significant financial resources.
Perot's "United We Stand America," using an 800 telephone number, is said already to have a million members at $15 a head. Brown says his "We the People" organization has about 2,000 signed up in what will be, at the outset anyway, essentially a localized effort.
Just as Perot's post-election activities have fueled speculation that he intends to seek the presidency again in 1996, Brown's much less ambitious agenda hints that this three-time presidential loser will try one more time three years hence. While he says he is looking for new ways to reform politics and is going back to Main Street as his starting point, Brown clearly still has the old White House gleam in his eye.
If many politicians and voters believe that Brown's losing 1992 race only dug him a deeper hole in his ambition to resurrect
himself politically, the former California governor holds that it actually helped to rehabilitate him. He says he went from one convention delegate in 1980 "to 618 in 1992." (It was actually 596.) "That's good progress." With that attitude, he says, he's not writing off a 1996 rerun. He says his "basic thesis" of ridding politics of money "is very sound."
Brown is back in San Francisco now scouting for a small-community base in the Bay Area where he can set up a headquarters and get involved in some local community service, such as running a cooperative or working with the homeless. He says the difference between his approach and Perot's, in addition to the Texan's bankroll, is his own focus beyond campaign reform on "social justice."
He says he is considering becoming the host of a talk show, if the necessary money can be raised. He is planning to put out a series of short books on major issues of the day, written by reformist authors not otherwise given wide circulation. But in the end Brown acknowledges that he is "working the same vein" as Perot and that he has found that as many as 20 percent of his supporters during the 1992 campaign have since "gone over to Perot." If President Clinton fails to achieve his economic objectives, Brown says, Perot "can be a serious candidate in 1996."
By working on the local level, Brown says, reformers may be able to reduce sharply the influence of money in politics. One possible approach, he says, is to push for "parliamentary" local government with 50 or 100 city council members elected, each )) with a relative handful of constituents, thus sharply cutting campaign costs, and then having the council select the mayor -- saving the large expenses required in a mayoral campaign.
Brown says he will involve himself on the side of change in local political issues in smaller towns around the country, such as a fight over a toxic waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio. In this sense, he appears to be following the modus operandi of Jesse Jackson, the man he said during the 1992 New York primary he wanted as his running mate. Like Jackson when he ran for president in 1984 and 1988, Brown in 1992 sought to convert his campaign into a movement once it was clear he would not be nominated, and has tried to sustain it since.
Meanwhile, he is watching with skepticism as Clinton labors to get his administration into high gear. "My hope is that my theory is wrong -- that the incumbent party [what he calls the Democrats and Republicans together] is not capable of real change," he says.
Brown, who has a reputation as a sort of political honeybee, flitting from one agenda to another, says he is "definitely committed to this, full time." After a career in establishment politics, including a stint as California Democratic Party chairman with heavy fund-raising responsibilities, he seems to be reveling in the anti-establishment role.
But because he has been to the political well so many times, with a penchant for what critics call "reinventing himself," Brown faces plenty of skepticism himself as he continues to strive for a larger niche in the politics of his party and country.