There’s never been a governor quite like Jerry Brown, and there’s not likely to be another.
He’s the only California governor ever to serve four terms, requiring 16 State of the State addresses. So we don’t blame him for dwelling on his accomplishments Thursday.
He used the speech – given to legislators, constitutional officers, Supreme Court justices and others in the Assembly chamber – to list his successes but also to remind them of what he considers unfinished business.
There is no shortage of candidates to replace Brown in November’s election. We hope each one of them was paying attention to Brown’s speech. Not to the part about big projects like his ill-conceived tunnels, but to Brown’s approach.
If he has a lasting legacy it is that bipartisanship works. It’s a message the entire nation needs to hear.
Yes, the roads, infrastructure, spending limits and growing rainy-day fund are important, too. But what really matters has been Brown’s ability to get things done by creating alliances with politicians who have been willing to help – regardless of party.
As Brown’s speeches go, his state-of-the-state was long, 30 minutes or so. He omitted his beloved Latin phrases, was light on California history and offered no quotes from dead philosophers, though he did invoke the Ten Commandments in what was the most significant aspect of the speech: his continuing effort to balance criminal justice with mercy.
Brown issued a call for more mental health care and drug treatment. In the coming fiscal year, California expects to raise $2.2 billion from a voter-approved income tax surcharge on wealthy Californians for mental health care. And yet too many mentally ill people still wander the streets without shelter, using drugs to self-medicate.
Also noteworthy was Brown’s call for a greater focus on our forests. Forest fires emit enormous volumes of greenhouse gases; reducing them must become a greater component in the state’s fight against climate change.
Brown arrived in office in 2011 facing a $27 billion deficit and will leave the next governor a reserve of $13.5 billion. That’s an important part of his legacy, a pragmatic solution to the next recession, and an implicit warning to any aspiring big spenders.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the front-runner to replace Brown, told reporters that Brown was handing off several batons to the next governor, among them a high-speed rail line from Fresno to San Jose, a costly project with vocal opponents. Some legislators want an audit. Sounds reasonable, but no accounting will ever mollify the project’s most dug-in critics.
High-speed rail is easy for politicians to oppose. But it employs 1,500 people, most of them in the Central Valley. It’s the biggest public works project ever undertaken that provides direct benefits first to Fresno but soon enough to Merced and, by extension, Modesto. It will help boost the Valley’s economy by providing a seamless transportation link to big Bay Area employers, which is why we support it. We hope the next governor will continue pushing for the project’s completion.
Brown again insisted that his “tunnels” are needed to provide water reliability to Californias hundreds of miles from the Delta. And he again insisted it would save the Delta ecosystem. With plans to take more of the water that flows through our region to make up for the tunnels carry away before it ever reaches the Delta, we simply cannot agree.
When Brown thanked Republicans for their votes on legislation to overhaul pensions, workers’ comp, a massive water bond and to provide funding for roads and repairs, his point was clear: The best solutions come from compromise, not partisan brute force.
He even told Republican legislators he would “have their back” if they are challenged in coming elections. A Democratic governor coming to the aid of Republican legislative candidates truly would be extraordinary. That might not happen anywhere else in America.
Jerry Brown has been unique as a governor. We hope the mold has not been broken.