The longest-serving governor in California history took the oath of office for a record fourth time Monday. And in his fourth inaugural address, Democrat Jerry Brown cited history as the basis for a cautious final-term agenda.
Brown took the oath of office in the Assembly chambers at the state Capitol, administered by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
Yet on this historic day, Brown chose to spend the bulk of his speech not on his fourth term, but on his third.
"The state budget, after a decade of turbulence, is finally balanced – more precariously than I would like – but balanced.”
Brown said many of the challenges California faces today, it faced 56 years ago, when his father Pat was sworn in as governor: discrimination, education quality, air pollution, water, and overcrowded prisons.
“So you see, these problems, they never completely go away," he said. "They remain to challenge and elicit the best from us."
Which is why, Brown stressed, California must spend the next four years ensuring the success of his recent education, health care and criminal justice changes. The governor put forth only three new proposals for his fourth term – led by an expanded push to combat climate change.
“Taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels," said Brown.
Brown’s entire speech represented an attempt to reconcile his message of fiscal austerity with ambitious projects like High-Speed Rail, the Delta tunnels, and reducing carbon emissions.
“Yes, California feeds on change and great undertakings, but the path of wisdom counsels us to ground ourselves and nurture carefully all that we’ve started. We must build on rock, not sand, so that when the storms come, our house stands.”
Brown’s goals of paying down debt and addressing the state’s crumbling infrastructure were met with general support within the California legislature. But on a number of other topics, Brown still faces pressure from both the right and the left.
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins said she appreciates the governor’s message of fiscal restraint. But she said California must also take care of its people.
“Not all Californians have come back from the recession," Atkins said. "I think California is on the comeback trail, but we still have people who are suffering in parts of our state and we have to make sure that we’re looking out for them.”
Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher said he supports fixing the state’s infrastructure. But like many in his party, Gallagher said that shouldn’t include moving forward with High Speed Rail.
“That’s putting money into what everybody is really agreeing now is a technology that’s going to be obsolete," Gallagher said. "It’s going to cost way more than initially anticipated, adding additional debt to our children. Let’s use our money smartly, let’s put it into our backbone infrastructure."
But Democratic Senator Bob Hertzberg said if anyone can accomplish big things in California, it’s Jerry Brown.
“Here’s a guy with 40 plus years of experience who knows how to get it done," said Hertzberg. "I’ve been in and around public policy my whole life. And I’m just sick and tired of the people who are great speechmakers, but don’t know how to get it done. The underlying big, resounding message of Jerry Brown’s remarks is that he knows how to get it done.”
Brown will put a dollar figure on his priorities later this week when he announces his annual budget.