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California governor Jerry Brown, defying the critics

May 1st, 2014
11:31 AM ET

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.”

Brown on high-speed rail, thinking big

Brown is now once again governor of California, and seeking an unprecedented fourth term.

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.”

California governor praises Clinton

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.”

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • U.S. Politics
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. RI

    Great stuff. Thanks Ms Amanpour!

    There are so many posts about dysfunctional failures, so I appreciate someone talking about successes when appropriate,

    Also, I appreciate someone asking tough questions about what still needs work.

    Both Gov. Brown 1.0 and 2.0 have been an intriguing mix of practical and visionary leadership.

    May 1, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Reply
  2. Marc

    I like California yet cannot understand where this states priorities are. High speed rail? Why not fix the dilapidated roads/infrastructure first or pour some money into the public school system which ranks amongst the bottom 5 of all the states.
    2 trillion dollar state economy 8th largest in the world, completely unnecessary patting oneself on the back (it was mentioned 2 times in this article alone) meanwhile the Mid-Atlantic states have a 3 trillion dollar economy and yet not one resident of those states use that as a term of endearment. Then again California really takes the cake in financial insolvency.
    I don't quite get this paragraph from the article:
    “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.”

    Either there was an omission on behalf of the editor or all Mr. Brown can do is deflect and change subject when asked real/hard questions. I would like to be as optimistic as possible about the future of the great state of California yet there has not been any real reversal of trend since the days it was hovering around default.

    May 1, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Reply
    • larrylinn

      The ballot measure to fund and build the high speed rail passed in 2008. Jerry Brown’s current term in office began in 2011, and his responsibility as governor is to implement the program. Though I rode a train to work, I voted against the bill.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:11 am | Reply
      • Susan Jerrell

        As a commuter, PLEASE get the rail up and running. So much anger and frustration on our roads due to the long commute times for really short distances. Also, we clog up the highways and streets and cause much longer wait times for emergency services.

        June 4, 2014 at 3:15 pm |
  3. Francis

    No state in the US has an economy anywhere near $3 trillion. California's economy is the largest by about $600 billion at least.

    As for financial insolvency, California faced a $27 billion deficit in 2012. Now the state boasts a budget surplus of $850 billion, just two years later. This prompted S&P to upgrade California's credit rating, citing "policymakers' heightened emphasis on fixing the state's fiscal structure in the past two budgets."

    That being said, California does indeed have massive shortfalls when it comes to infrastructure and education. However, I would hope that our lawmakers will make practical use of the money the state has to address these problems.

    Assuming our politicians do not return to their reckless pre-recession behavior, I would call California's outlook optimistic.

    May 2, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Reply
    • duu daa

      Why are the taxes so high if there is so much money? Why are businesses and people still leaving the state?
      Sound fishy to me.

      May 4, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  4. major tom

    Conclusion: let the Democrats.

    May 4, 2014 at 5:14 am | Reply
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