"My father built the water plan. I want to complete it. So, whether it's high-speed rail or water or education or public safety, I'm going to invest and build for the future, not steal from it." GOV. JERRY BROWN, son of former Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown
Before leaving Southern California last week, after urging greater infrastructure spending in a "land of dreams," Gov. Jerry Brown recalled how long he has made that case and how wary of his ideas people can be.
"I actually wanted to have a state satellite," Brown, governor before from 1975 to 1983, told the City Club of San Diego on Thursday. "Couldn't pull it off."
Governor again three decades later, Brown is promoting high-speed rail and a multibillion-dollar water project, versions of which he advocated, ultimately unsuccessfully, when he was governor before. He's also campaigning to raise taxes. In a series of appearances in Southern California following his State of the State address, he made repeated references to his father, the late Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, a legendary builder of state infrastructure.
"My father built the water plan," Brown said. "I want to complete it. So, whether it's high-speed rail or water or education or public safety, I'm going to invest and build for the future, not steal from it."
In Burbank, a reporter said to the Democratic governor, "But the issue is, 'How do you balance cuts vs. raising revenue.' "
"No, see that's the small-minded mentality," Brown responded. "We want to build. We want to build high-speed rail, we want to build water, we want to build roads, we want California to stay on the move."
Brown is expected by summer to propose a peripheral canal or another way to move water through or around the Delta, a project he said will cost water users "well over $10 billion." He persuaded the Legislature when he was governor before to approve such a canal, but it was defeated in a referendum in 1982.
Three years earlier, in his State of the State address, Brown had called the project "an investment in the future," a refrain he repeated this week, more than 30 years later.
"It takes a long time to get things done, and that's why I'm still governor, because I didn't finish everything," said Brown, 73. "In fact, my father didn't finish everything. So, we stick to it. You know, we're not a flash in the pan."
The public's appetite for public works spending is uncertain. Californians authorized the state's high-speed rail plan in 2008, but they now oppose it by a wide margin, according to the most recent Field Poll. The electorate has a dim view of the Legislature, and Brown's own public approval rating though higher than many other politicians' is nowhere near as high as he posted when he was governor before.
"The voters are very cynical, and rightly so," said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, which handicaps legislative elections.
Hoffenblum, who was working for the Los Angeles County Republican Party in the late 1960s, when Brown was elected to the Los Angeles Community College board, said Brown has "always been a grandiose thinker."
Though the governor's positions are in line with a Democratic Party that is trying to distinguish itself as "the party of bright ideas," Hoffenblum said, "I don't know whether the electorate's ready for that yet."
Brown said Californians, despite their negative feelings about government, are "loyal to their community" and have "deep feelings about our state."
He said, "It will be up to me to draw the picture of what California could look like, and what the alternatives are."
Mark Petracca, a political science professor at the University of California, Irvine, said Friday that Brown "must be extraordinarily frustrated."
For "somebody with very big ideas," Petracca said, "it's hard to motivate people to think in those terms when there's not only so much mockery around that, but where people's lives, you know, they want to make sure they can pay the next month's mortgage."
In his State of the State address Wednesday and at a series of follow-up events in Southern California, Brown urged Californians to reject declinists and to invest in the state's future.
"I do admire the fact that he is challenging California to think bigger, to think about having big infrastructure projects that we can complete," said Ruben Barrales, president of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Still, he is unsure if Brown's effort will succeed: "Obviously, on a practical level, the people are concerned about the economics of it, the cost of big programs and all that."
Brown's appeal was not unlike that of years ago, when he proposed a $5.8 million communications satellite system and was mocked for his interest in space.
"It's a new idea," Brown said in 1978, "and many people have a hard time dealing with it. They're the same ones who didn't believe we'd ever land a man on the moon."