Yet Brown hasn't changed. He's always had a too-clever-by-half side. In what might be seen as a departure from political correctness, he vetoed a bill that would have allowed legal immigrants who aren't citizens to serve on juries. His veto message explained: "This bill would permit lawful permanent residents who are not citizens to serve on a jury. I don't think that's right."
Yet somehow, Dao Gov decided it was right to sign a bill to allow an illegal immigrant to be a lawyer. Is it a yin and yang thing? Or does he have that low an opinion of lawyers?
I still should have faith, GOP strategist Rob Stutzman assures me, in Brown's place in the middle of the road. Dao Gov has a political sense, Stutzman said. "It's paddle left, paddle right. Minimum wage is paddling left -- when you look at what he's done for industry, as well." Stutzman then noted a bill the governor signed that gives businesses in violation of antitoxin regulations time to fix problems. Then there's Brown's challenge to three federal judges who keep insisting on running state prisons.
Brown spokesman Evan Westrup cites Brown's work this year to reform school spending, his first-year campaign against redevelopment and his economic development plan as proof he is "a pragmatic, focused, realistic governor. That runs counter to any moonbeam narrative."
The fact remains that Brown was closer to the center -- on immigration, on parental rights and on the role of government -- in 2011 than he is in 2013. People outside California read about the transgender bathroom bill, the minimum wage hike and driver's licenses and think: crazy California.
People in California, too. "If he's the adult supervision in Sacramento," quipped Jon Fleischman, publisher of the popular conservative website FlashReport, "that's giving a bad name to adults."
Sacramento is changing, and Brown is changing with it. With Democrats controlling every statewide office and both houses of the Legislature, it's like a rush of water ready to spill over the left coast. Will Brown be able to stop the torrent, or will he be swept away?