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Could Gov. Jerry Brown be the new face of an anti-nukes campaign? He’s thinking about it

In Democracy, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on March 28, 2017 at 9:58 pm

By John Myers, LA Times, March 23, 2017
For Gov. Jerry Brown, the question isn’t why he spent so much time in Washington this week talking about the growing threat of nuclear annihilation — it’s why everyone else isn’t doing the same.

“Most people are kind of blithely unaware,” Brown said of the issue. “It doesn’t show up in the press. That’s why I say, ‘The end of the world is not news.’ ”

Brown, though, may be ready to launch a visible new effort to change that. His busy schedule in the nation’s capital this week was filled with discussions of disaster relief, transportation and healthcare. But those meetings were scheduled to accommodate time he spent with leaders of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit organization that seeks to reduce the threat of nuclear war.

What the governor took from his Washington visit was an appetite for action, perhaps even a rebirth of his former evangelical fervor for nuclear disarmament.

“I’m looking for ways to generate more activism, to build the awareness and the momentum for more discussion between these hostile powers,” Brown said in an interview. “And I think that may involve more public activity.”

Brown was invited to join the group’s board of directors earlier this year, alongside some of the world’s most distinguished nuclear experts. His own views were shaped amid California protests over nuclear power and weapons research in the late 1970s, an era in which the young governor had tapped in to a broader national discussion.

That discussion, though, faded from the spotlight.

“It’s a hard subject and people don’t like to think about it,” said former Democratic Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, now chief executive of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Nunn said that he and Brown have talked about nuclear threats “on a number of occasions” over the years and that he was urged to enlist the governor’s help by former Defense Secretary William J. Perry and former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who served under President Clinton and President Reagan, respectively.

“Citizens have to be interested” in shrinking the risk of a nuclear incident, Nunn said.

The Washington-based organization prides itself on the network of connections its international experts can tap to take action. Its projects have included a “fuel bank” for countries interested in nuclear energy to receive low-enriched uranium without creating a program that could produce more weapons.

That proactive approach is one Brown supports.

“Nobody seems to be worried about the general trajectory toward disaster,” the governor said in lamenting the tepid reaction the topic inspires in the general public.

Gov. Jerry Brown heads to Capitol Hill and dives into Washington’s healthcare battle »

Should nuclear tensions spill over into conflict, there would be few politicians as justified as Brown in saying, “I told you so.” The issue was a staple of his platform during three failed races for president, though his earnest approach to the topic often produced ribbing among political writers.

“Vote for Jerry Brown or die,” wrote journalist Roger Simon in a 1980 column published by The Times after Brown railed against nuclear weapons in the run-up to the New Hampshire presidential primary.

Brown’s focus often shifted to other issues during the rebirth of his political career, when he was elected as Oakland mayor in 1998 and attorney general in 2006. Now in the home stretch of a final term as governor, he said he’s ready to again sound the nuclear alarm — a cause that he said has parallels to his efforts on climate change.

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