Editorial: How Jerry Brown rewrote the California story

“Gov. Jerry Brown returned to office eight years ago, encountering a $27 billion deficit and national commentators who were only too eager to compare California to debt-ridden Greece,” The Chronicle writes in an editorial.

“He was undaunted.

“He knew his first order of business was to get the budget under control. He also knew that it wouldn’t be easy with a Legislature dominated by Democrats who had grown weary of cutting cherished programs in patchwork deals with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Brown knew that any chance of getting state finances on sound footing required him to say “no” to his party brethren’s demands to restore spending.

“Was it frustrating?

“’No,’ he replied. ‘It was exciting. It was interesting. It was challenging. I say that because in my first few years in the ’70s, it didn’t seem like there were any big crises. I would go into the office and say, ‘Now what can I do that wouldn’t be done but for me? Most of this stuff is going to happen, and I’m just here as a bit player.’

“’When I came back the second time, there was a real problem. It was called the $27 billion deficit.’

“Brown was anything but a bit player in his second eight-year tour as governor. He dominated the agenda by preaching and practicing austerity on perennial spending. Legislators alternately expressed exasperation and admiration at the governor’s austerity and stubbornness.

“But Brown prevailed. He is leaving office with the budget in balance, an upgraded state credit rating and $14 billion in a rainy-day fund.

“Throughout his eight years, Brown maintained a posture of restraint, even for causes he generally supported. He famously declared that ‘not every human problem deserves a law’ — and his willingness to wield his veto pen forever kept legislators guessing on what might happen to their bills. His actions on the final flurry of measures to reach his desk illustrated his paddle-left-paddle-right approach. He rejected measures that would have prohibited immigration arrests at courthouses, banned gun sales at the Cow Palace, mandated that college health centers provide abortion pills and allowed San Francisco to set up safe-injection sites.

“An accounting of Brown’s legacy will certainly include the state’s aggressive action against climate change (including a cap-and-trade program and a goal of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2045), his often mocked but still rolling vision of high-speed rail, education funding increases and reforms, and criminal-justice reforms that have significantly reduced the state’s prison population. He finishes his 16 years in office having signed 16,000 bills and appointed 1,541 jurists.

“He has not solved all of California’s big problems — most notably, the housing crisis and the fiscal time bomb of retirement obligations to state workers remain elusive — but there is no question he is handing the reins to Gavin Newsom of a state in far better condition than the one Brown inherited in 2011.

Most important, he has answered the question: Is California governable?

“It is governable,” he said. “It takes an activism on the part of legislators and interested advocates, but it also takes a real governor, in the technical sense, of a leader that is willing to put the brakes on the overheated enthusiasm of the many forces and people who want more laws and more spending. It does take the thrust and the parry. If you have all thrust, the state will get in the hole very quickly. So you need resistance, not just to Trump, but to the more ill-considered ideas … that are circulating around the state Capitol.”

“Jerry Brown was the right leader for a precarious time in the state’s history. The next round of stories about ‘California, the failed state’ have been put on indefinite hold.”

The rest of the article is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

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