What Brown Told the Legislature About CA’s Destiny


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

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There are 4 comments for this post

  1. avatar patwater says:

    “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” INDEED: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=JN99jshaQbY

    Still it’s important to remember how far we have to go. Just look at the dropout rate in a place like LAUSD or the broader failings of our factory-like school system: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zDZFcDGpL4U

    Should be an interesting year — particularly in education, which is due for a bit of a revolution, what with the advent of the interwebs and all.



  2. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    While I agree with the governor that California has to move forward instead of just hanging on for dear life, I’m not sure his modern-day peripheral canal fulfills his desire to do things smarter. There are other options. There are cheaper options. There are more environmentally sound options. Plus, this canal is likely to hasten the collapse of the Delta–especially if nothing is done about upstream pollution. Finally, sending more water to the Central Valley may not do anything to address the underlying issue of salinization of their water table. And I’ve never understood why so many think it’s okay to overturn 150 years of court decisions on water rights to disadvantage Delta farmers with senior water rights for Central Valley farmers with junior rights. If Brown can convince me that he’s not going to cause the collapse of the fishing industry and Delta farming with this plan, okay. So far, I haven’t seen anything persuasive on that point, or any of the others I raised.

    As for the split Calbuzz notes in the governor’s fiscal and social positions, it puts me in mind of another governor. Howard Dean, when he was running for president, always said he was a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. He explained it in much the same way as governor Brown, saying that–if we want to maintain the government services so many of us rely on, and even add more–we need to make sure our finances are stable and sound.

    To that point, I’d like to see any proof that the Enterprise Zone program created any jobs. Every study I’ve seen says it didn’t. In the absence of evidence of effectiveness, it doesn’t fit with the governor’s emphasis on fiscal soundness.

  3. avatar sqrjn says:

    “What?! A great man? I see only an actor of his own ideals.”

  4. avatar Logathis says:

    I’m a 25 year-old who describes himself as a “Jerry Brown Democrat”. How could it be too early to don such a label? The man has been doing his thing since before I was born.

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