California Gov. Jerry Brown has reason to appreciate the saying that what goes around, comes around. Some 38 years after coping with a massive drought in the Golden State in his first governorship, he's beleaguered again by the same natural disaster.

Characteristically, the 76-year-old one-time wunderkind has made another hard choice in ordering a 25 percent mandatory cutback in water use in the state famed for green lawns, golf courses and the outdoor leisure life. It comes only a year after his having called for a voluntary 20 percent cut that failed adequately to cope with record lows in rain and snowfall.


Speaking the other day from a patch of parched ground at a site where the snow is annually measured, Mr. Brown observed that "we are standing on dry grass, and we should be standing in five feet of snow." In targeting 50-million-square-feet of lawns, as well as golf courses, cemeteries, campuses and other heavy users of water, Mr. Brown sounded a dire warning: "People must realize we are in a new era. The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day, that's going to be a thing of the past."

Those words seemed not in keeping with the state whose citizens often boast of unlimited possibilities and horizons. Indeed, California over the last four decades has evolved from leading the storied life of milk and honey into one like the rest of America, facing nature's unpredictability.

California farmers particularly, who collectively are the prime producers of American foodstuffs coming out of the ground, are dependent on steady and reliable rain and snowfall, an effective water supply management system and an environmentally attuned governor of long record.

Under other circumstances, Mr. Brown might have been the experienced administrator many Democratic liberals looked to as a fail-safe alternative should their party's 2016 front-runner, Hillary Clinton, somehow fall by the wayside.

But his age has taken him out of much of the speculation, along with a sense that his time for presidential aspirations or possibilities has passed. He is remembered from the early 1970s as a young political skyrocket who burst onto the national scene at age 36 preaching the politics of skepticism and diminished expectations.

Mr. Brown entered the 1976 race for the Democratic presidential nomination late, as former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter had it within his grasp. But he challenged him in the Maryland primary and beat him soundly, 37 percent to 28 percent, at a time when Democratic voters were beginning to display buyer's remorse toward Mr. Carter.

Mr. Brown went on to win the primaries in Nevada and Rhode Island, finished a close write-in second in Oregon, and trounced Mr. Carter in California and New Jersey, but too late. In 1980, he ran again, but with Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts also challenging Mr. Carter's re-election, Mr. Brown's comet of four years earlier had flamed out.

He tried again in 1992, opposing Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, edging him in the Democratic primary in Connecticut and winning four other state primaries. But he stubbed his toe in New York, declaring if nominated he would pick Jesse Jackson as his running mate, and ran third behind Mr. Clinton and Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts.

In Mr. Brown's zest for governance, he won two terms as mayor of Oakland, and after a term as California attorney general he won the governorship again in 2010 and 2014. In serving his fourth term, he is back contending with the forces of nature again, in another severe drought, forcing him to mandate sharp restrictions of consumption for the first time in the state's history.

In a remarkable political career, in which he also has served as California's secretary of state and Democratic state chairman and had one losing race for the U.S. Senate, Mr. Brown seems not to have lost that zest. But barring a political miracle in the road to the 2016 party nomination, he is making the best of the governorship he has held longer than any other Californian, and is arguably working harder at it than any other.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.