Without uttering President Donald Trump’s name, Gov. Jerry Brown responded to this extraordinary historical moment with a State of the State speech that celebrated California’s diversity and economic power and called for an invigorated democracy nationally.
Critiquing “blatant attacks on science” and “assertion of ‘alternative facts,’ whatever those are,” Brown praised bipartisanship, truth and civility where the president has polarized and dissembled.
Speaking without a teleprompter, he did not offer a road map for the coming year, as is common in such speeches. Lacking was any exhortation that legislators approve a transportation tax or a housing package. That’s unfortunate, if understandable, given the fiscal, environmental and social pain Trump and the Republican Congress could visit on this state.
But Brown did hit the right tone in a punchy, 15-minute address, his sixth State of the State speech, now, over two stints as governor. Ever erudite and eclectic, he departed from his usual Latin and Thomas Aquinas, leaning instead on Abraham Lincoln’s “better angels” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
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States who spoil for fights tend to find them, and California should not needlessly make itself a target. But Brown is right to send a message to Trump and congressional Republicans.
“Nobody living can ever make me turn back,” the lyrics say.
And Brown laid down markers. Returning to the reality of global warming and the disinformation many scientists fear from the Trump administration, he pointedly reminded that “whatever they do in Washington, they can’t change the facts.” He pledged California will continue to lead the fight against climate change.
He pointed to the dangers of Congress and Trump – again, without mentioning them – altering the Affordable Care Act. California has embraced health care reform, he noted, and loss of federal money could devastate the budget.
The governor cited key state laws he signed and championed, which federal laws could preempt, including protections for law-abiding undocumented immigrants, not the least of which grants equal access to higher education for kids who work hard: “We will defend everybody – every man, woman and child – who has come here for a better life and has contributed to the well-being of our state.”
Brown also welcomed Trump’s stated desire to spend on infrastructure, including roads, tunnels and rail, and perhaps even a dam. On that point, he turned to Republicans and encouraged them to cheer, and they did.
And, as a skilled politician, he recognized the implications of the massive, peaceful marches across the country last weekend, citing the “vast and inspiring fervor.”
“Democracy doesn’t come from the top; it starts and spreads in the hearts of the people,” the governor said.
Brown’s audience in the Assembly chambers included what must be the most ethnically diverse leadership of any state or nation. Sons, daughters and grandchildren of immigrants hold most of California’s top offices – Assembly speaker, Senate leader, chief justice, associate justices, controller, treasurer and, as of Tuesday, attorney general.
Xavier Becerra’s mother, who was born in Mexico, and father, who was born in California but raised in Mexico, had front row seats to see their son sworn in shortly before Brown’s speech.
Later, addressing the press, Becerra alternated between English and Spanish, and noted how great it was that the state’s top law enforcement officer could do that, thanks in part to his parents’ insistence that he speak both languages. Trump removed a bilingual feature from the White House website.
Like Brown, who nominated him, Becerra gets that people – and states – who spoil for fights find them. California should not needlessly make itself a target, but they’re right to send a message. We may, as they say, be “America, only more so,” but the president whose name was unspoken Tuesday may not see the link between our mutual fates.