In his 2013 State of the State Speech, Gov. Jerry Brown delivered one overarching message to his fellow Democrats who control the Legislature: You must look to the future and govern with prudence because you are entrusted with California’s destiny.
Like any great political leader, Brown is concerned about his own legacy. But his project is larger than his own mortal soul: he is passionate about leading his state back to grandeur, about weaving the golden thread of California’s history into a grand tapestry.
“To some generations much is given,” he said, quoting Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “Of other generations much is expected. This generation has a rendezvous with destiny.” To which Brown added: “We — right here in California — have such a rendezvous with destiny.”
Thinking big while being fiscally responsible, this yin and yang that spins within Brown’s intellect is nothing new. As Calbuzz explained back in February 2010, in “God, Man & Jerry Brown’s Ignatian Indifference,” Brown’s personal ideology has no trouble fusing Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s “Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation” with E.F. Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” and G.K. Chesterton, “The Apostle of Common Sense.”
Perhaps it’s too soon to coin the label “Jerry Brown Democrat.” But if that comes to denote a sort of neo-neo-liberal who envisions and works toward huge projects for the future – like water diversion, high-speed rail and dramatic reductions in greenhouse gases – while maintaining a healthy, balanced budget, then perhaps the label is apt.
Brown made no bones about his fiscally conservative impulse. “We have promises to keep. And the most important is the one we made to the voters if Proposition 30 passed: that we would guard jealously the money temporarily made available,” he said.
“This means living within our means and not spending what we don’t have. Fiscal discipline is not the enemy of our good intentions but the basis for realizing them. It is cruel to lead people on by expanding good programs, only to cut them back when the funding disappears. That is not progress; it is not even progressive. It is illusion. That stop and go, boom and bust, serves no one. We are not going back there.”
In other words: Don’t push me from the left, don’t try to commit temporary funds to long-term liberal programs, don’t fight me on stashing away funds for a rainy day. Fiscal discipline is the basis of realizing good intentions.
At the same time, Brown was uncharacteristically magnanimous and generous in his speech, giving the Legislature, and Speaker John Perez by name, credit for taking on big challenges and making difficult choices – all of which set the stage for Brown and his labor and business allies to win approval of temporary tax increases to keep California afloat.
Brown sees this moment in California history – where water, rail and the environment pose huge challenges and opportunities (much like the ones his father faced in the 1960s) – as part of an unbroken strand of Golden State history, from Jose de Galvez, Gaspar Portola and Father Serra, to the Forty-Niners, the Transcontinental Railroad and Land Grant Colleges to oil production, movies, the aircraft industry, the Golden Gate Bridge, aerospace, freeways, projects, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, venture capital, Silicon Valley, Hewlett Packard, Apple and Google.
“What is this but the most diverse, creative and longest standing mass migration in the history of the world. That is California. And we are her sons and daughters,” he said. You are, he argued to the Legislature, part of a long chain of innovation and adventure. “The rest of the country looks to California. Not for what is conventional, but for what is necessary—necessary to keep faith with our courageous forebears.”
Don’t spend so much time passing little laws that just add to the “turgid legal system.” Think Big.
Fix the education system. Engage in “subsidiarity — the idea that a central authority should only perform those tasks which cannot be performed at a more immediate or local level.” Implement the Affordable Care Act. Help create jobs by repairing the Enterprise Zone Program and the Jobs Hiring Credit. Rethink delays caused by the California Environmental Quality Act.
But to Think Big, California should approve Brown’s plan to tunnel water from the San Joaquin Delta to critical economic regions of the state.
To Think Big, California must set its sights on getting at least a third of its electricity from solar, wind and other renewable sources by 2020.
To Think Big, California must build a high-speed rail system.
These are the kinds of bold projects that link today’s legislators with the grand history of California, Brown was saying. Whether the governor has the skill and clout to lead Sacramento toward his vision of its destiny is uncertain.
But he has delivered exactly what he said he would – a balanced budget and an opportunity to move forward. He’s connected to the voters and he’s guiding the Legislature. You can’t ask for much more from an old guy