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The Riggs Report: Jerry Brown’s compass

First lady Anne Gust Brown’s influence tops Sacramento list

Outside the cloistered world of Capitol politics, few are familiar with Anne Gust Brown. But there is no doubt that she wields significant influence over her husband, Gov. Jerry Brown.

A political partner in every sense of the word, Gust Brown is unelected, unappointed and unpaid, but plays an unconventional role for a California first lady—a key advisory position akin to a chief of staff.

Gust Brown’s clout was recognized this week in Capitol Weekly’s Top 100 list of Sacramento’s most influential players, occupying the No. 1 spot on that coveted and sometimes controversial list.

Capitol Weekly describes Gust Brown’s influence on her husband this way:

“His public approval ratings are high, the state is better managed than it has been in years and even many Republicans give him good reviews for his fiscal stewardship. That is due, at least in part, to Anne, who helps manage her husband’s time and priorities, and weighs in during policy debates.

“We’ve described her as a ‘strategist, a fundraiser, a manager, an organizer, a gatekeeper and the wife of a cerebral, restless, crotchety, Jesuit-trained governor.’ That about sums it up.”

Capitol Weekly’s editor, John Howard, told me this week that he often gets pushback, complaints and arguments about who makes their list. But when it came to Gust Brown, there was none of that.

“She is very much a hands-on person in the Horseshoe,” Howard said, referring to the nickname given to the governor’s Capitol office complex. “She is very active. So one of the reasons that Brown has been successful in both recent terms is because she’s been very efficient as a manager, a sounding board, and a dispenser of political advice.”

Gust Brown is a former executive at the Gap stores, an attorney who met Brown in 1990 when he was serving as chairman of the state Democratic Party. It took another 15 years before they got around to marriage.

Although Jerry Brown has only two years left in the governor’s office, there has been speculation that he could appoint his wife to be California Attorney General in the event that incumbent Kamala Harris is successful in her bid this November for a U.S. Senate seat. If so, that would ensure an extended political life for Team Brown.

Will Brown consider such a move? Probably not. But if he does, his wife will automatically have a statewide profile far beyond the Horseshoe.