Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. celebrated a record-smashing reelection victory yesterday that was made all the sweeter by the come-from-behind-win of California Supreme Court Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird.
Bird, a onetime top Brown aide whom the governor appointed to the state high court, survived a strong challenge based on decisions that critics said reflected a soft-on-crime attitude.
Under an unusual California law that requires voter confirmation of state Supreme Court justices, Bird won with only a 51.7 percent favorable vote.
Bird's predicament was made doubly difficult on election day when the Los Angeles Times reported that the court had reached, but withheld, a decision overturning a law that requires a prison sentence when a gun is used during commission a violet crime. Gov. Brown repeatedly has cited the law as an example of his administration's tough anti-crime attitude.
According to the Times story, Bird voted with the 4-to-3 majority in overturning the law on grounds it violated judicial discretion. While tensely waiting out the final results late Tuesday, Bird denied that any decisions had been reached by the court that had not been announced. She refused to elaborate, however, and a Los Angeles legal newspaper yesterday confirmed that some criminal cases have been decided but not made public.
With more than 98 percent of the voted totaled, Brown led his Republican challenger Evelle J. Younger by more than 1.3 million votes, the largest margin ever in a California governor's race. Brown's winning percentage of 56 was about a point lower than Ronald Reagan's percentage when he defeated Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, Jerry Brown's father, in 1966.
At the euphoric victory celebration at a Los Angeles restaurant late Tuesday, the governor's supporters openly speculated about a possible presidential campaign by Brown in 1980. And in the quieter mood of a post-election press conference, Brown said he wasn't "locking anything in" or "locking anything out" in his future political plans. He also declared that his victory demonstrated how Democrats could preempt the issues of cutting taxes and reducing government spending.
While Brown and Bird were celebrating, blacks in California had little to cheer about. The election was a disaster for black politicians, who lost all three statewide elections in which they were involved.
Democratic state Treasurer Jesse Unruhs one-sided victory over Republican Donald J. Prince, a black mortage banker, was no surprise.
But Republican George Deukmejian won a 9 percentage point victory over Democrat Yvonne B. Burke in an attorney general's race that had been expected to be close.
Burke, considered one of the nation's best black political prospects, was handicapped by a long California tradition of electing the governor of one party and the attorney general of another. She also opposed the states death penalty law, which Deukmejian authored.
Gov. Brown's coattails proved non-existent for the other black on the Democratic state wide ticket, Lt. Gov. Mervyn Dymally.
Dymally was swept from office by a 541000-vote margin by Mike Curb, a 33-year-old millionaire record producer who predicted before the election that Dymally will be indicted by a federal grand jury now sifting the results of a long probe into official corruption in Sacramento. Curb did not specify the nature of the supposed indictment.
While Curb's victory is supposed to make it more difficult for Brown to campaign for president, there are are early indications that the two men will make an effort to cooperate in their mutual political interests.
The only solace for blacks in the California results was the victory of Diane E. Watson, a member of the Los Angeles board of education, who became the first black woman ever elected to the state Senate.