Brown Urges Action, Vision In State of the State

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"California is on the mend," said Gov. Jerry Brown in his State of the State speech. (Photo: Justin Short/Governor's Office)

If there's one takeaway from Governor Jerry Brown's 2012 State of the State address, it may be this: Brown faces the unique task this year of preaching both boldness and austerity... all at the same time.

The governor's roughly 20 minute speech before a joint session of the Legislature was a creative cocktail that blended a defense of his tax plan, the state's need for big thinking, and -- at times, it seemed -- the very reputation of his native California.

"Contrary to those declinists, who sing of Texas and bemoan our woes, California is still the land of dreams," said Brown before rattling off a list of what makes the Golden State one of a kind.

There was a sense of urgency (or impatience) in the governor's delivery of the remarks, perhaps a reflection of the fact that his to-do list for 2012 includes everything from the budget to education, water supply projects, pensions, renewable energy, and more.

"We're on the move, we're on the mend, let's get it done," he said in his concluding comments.

(And he was literally on the move, quickly hopping a flight to southern California for two campaign events in the LA-area today and events in Orange County and San Diego on Thursday.)

At almost every turn, Brown seemed to be in a particularly feisty mood for the annual gubernatorial speech -- whether it was scoffing at "dystopian journalists [who] write stories on the impending decline of our economy" or comparing critics of California's ambitious high-speed rail project to naysayers on past global achievements from the interstate highway system to the Suez Canal.

And, with his sights set firmly on the legislators sitting in the Assembly chambers who must vote to authorize the initial voter-approved bond sale for the bullet train, Brown cut to the chase: "It is now your decision to evaluate the plan and decide what action to take. Without any hesitation, I urge your approval."

As luck would have it, less than an hour after Brown's speech, his tax increase initiative was cleared for signature gathering, helping launch his official campaign for a budget vote of the people on November 6. (And he couldn't have asked for a better official title: "Temporary Taxes to Fund Education. Guaranteed Local Public Safety Funding.")

Democrats seemed energized by the governor's comments. "It's a good start to the year, and it was a good speech," said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. Official responses from most Dems focused on the governor's budget ideas ("fiscally sound," "fiscal house in order," and so on).

Republicans were critical of the governor's budget priorities in general, and his tax initiative in particular. "The focus" this year, said Senate GOP leader Bob Huff, "should be to streamline government and help create new jobs."

As with so many State of the State speeches, this one often seemed aimed at the listening and viewing audience outside of the Capitol, though that audience was no doubt puzzled by his early ad-lib about the "precognition" of legislative GOP leaders. Nonetheless, Governor Brown's long resume and family lineage seemed to add authenticity to his references to the 19th century Gold Rush and passing references to who the mayor was of Berkeley in 1966.

But now, Brown must do something he hasn't done much in recent times -- take his politics on the road. Negotiating with legislators is one thing; swaying tax averse voters on the stump may be another.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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    > Pct. below poverty line: 14.5% (tied for 21st highest)
    > Unemployment: 11.9% (2nd highest)

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