By Mick Krever, CNN
Jerry Brown is his own man.
Jerry Brown is his own man.
“There are some people making fun of everything,” the California governor told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Wednesday. “So that's just the way life is.”
In this case, he was responding to a question about his struggle to get a high-speed rail plan off the ground.
But the man once known as “Governor Moonbeam” clearly holds by that sentiment in his governing style.
When Jerry Brown first led “the nation state called California” – as he calls it - in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a Chicago columnist gave him the nickname, equally for California’s vanguard innovation and Brown’s own eccentricities.
“I feel I've earned that moniker,” Brown told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Wednesday, “because of the creativity … and, yes, the unpredictability.”
Despite help from a recovering economy, he is widely credited with pulling the state back from the fiscal brink it stood on after the 2007-08 recession.
“We faced the music,” he says. “We took our medicine.”
“We cut programs: programs dear to liberals, programs dear to conservatives and builders, the university, child care – a host of very good programs we had to reduce because the money wasn't there.”
Governor Brown’s “nation-state” analogy is not far off.
With over 38 million people, it’s as big as an average-sized European country.
With a GDP of just under two trillion dollars, it’s the eighth-largest economy in the world – bigger than South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines combined. Bigger, even, than Russia.
For good and for ill, California impacts the world.
In the wake of the financial crisis, the state’s leaders were paralyzed by a $27 billion budget deficit; there were fears that, like Greece, the state could default and take the world economy with it.
“Between the cuts, the taxes and the inherent vibrancy and recovery of the California economy, we are now in a surplus position whereas before, as you indicate, we were being compared with failed states.”
Does the state have anything to teach the federal government about fiscal recovery?
Governor Brown benefitted from Democratic majorities in in California’s legislative branch, and unlike what has become the de-facto rule in the United States Senate, a simple majority – not 60% - can pass a bill.
“There is almost willful inability on the part of the extreme elements there in Congress to come together,” Brown said. “On the course they're on now in Washington, these two political parties are not coming together in the way that will arrest the decline that seems ominous to me.”
California, with its massive immigrant population, is a canary in the coalmine for what will soon become reality in all of America: A non-white-majority country.
The state is doing all it can, he said, to help and integrate the growing population – “ensuring the health care, the educational opportunity, the minimum wage, we've now given the right to drive a car, even though people are not documented.”
On issues of regulation, and indeed government policy writ large, California often sets the standard that other states later follow.
And yet, a majority of the state’s roads lie in disrepair, and Governor Brown is struggling to get that high-speed rail plan off the ground.
“Yes, it takes boldness. But ever since the gold rush, people have been coming to California because it is a place of dreams. And if sixteen other countries can build a high-speed rail, California can, and we are.”
“In terms of these roads, yes, we need to have repairs. But remember, we have more Nobel laureates just in the first quarter of 2014, 60 percent of all the venture capital investment in America was invested in California.”
“This is the place of Google and Apple and Hewlett-Packard – yeah, we're going to have some problems. But it's a $2 trillion economy.”
“We learned in Silicon Valley that those who fail go on to create ever greater successes. If you're fearful, well, you may not stumble, but you don't create anything monumental.”
So what nickname will replace “Governor Moonbeam” at the end of this governorship?
“I don't know,” he says. “But I think it's going to be different than any one I've had to date.”