It took unprecedented upheaval in national politics to divert California Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address from its typical course. Instead of advocating for fiscal restraint and a few new state policies, the governor used the annual speech Tuesday to lay out a broader vision of California’s role during a Donald Trump presidency.
The speech was Brown’s most extensive remarks about the new president since the election. And they came after Democratic legislative leaders, such as Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, have called for California to act as “resistance.”
"Californians do not need healing," Rendon said. "We need to fight."
Brown largely avoided that “F” word, or even mention of Trump by name — a major change from his Democratic Convention Speech last summer.
But the governor acknowledged this State of the State speech would differ from previous years.
"This morning it is hard for me to keep my thoughts just on California," Brown said. "The recent election and inauguration of a new President have shown deep divisions across America. While no one knows what the new leaders will actually do, there are signs that are disturbing."
Without declaring how he expects the Republican-controlled federal government will move to influence California policies, Brown repeatedly called for the state to prepare for uncertainty, and he urged defense of state health care, climate change and immigration policies.
"Let me be clear: 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 said.
After the speech, Democratic Senate leader Kevin de León and Speaker Rendon said, functionally, Brown’s position mirrored theirs.
"Mr. De León, the governor and I have sent a consistent message," Rendon said. "We’re not turning back, we’re not turning back on our progress, whether it’s climate change, workers’ rights, reproductive rights, we’re not turning back in California."
But Republican lawmakers heard something more conciliatory in Brown’s speech. They pointed to this line:
"Look for new ways to work beyond party and act as Californians first. Democrats are in the majority, but Republicans represent real Californians too."
Republican Assembly leader Chad Mayes said there were some things in Brown's speech that he could agree with.
"In fact I’m very thankful that he reached out and said we want to work on things in a bipartisan way," said Mayes.
Brown also offered warm words for the president—in particular Trump’s call for increased funding for infrastructure.
"I say amen to that, man. Amen to that, brother. We’re there with you," Brown stated.
Republican Senate leader Jean Fuller said she was glad to hear it.
"In the past everything was focused on what might happen and how we need to fight, and nothing about how we can fix things or how we can work together," said Fuller.
Of course, it wasn’t all praise. Republicans criticized a lack of policy details in the speech, while some Democrats continued to criticize a spending proposal Brown laid out earlier this month. And, while Brown generally avoided the fiery rhetoric of his colleagues, he repeatedly decried the new president’s rejection of science and provable fact—such as the size of the crowd at the inauguration.
"When the science is clear or when our own eyes tell us that the seats in this chamber are filled and that the sun is shining, we must say so, not construct some alternate universe of non-facts that we find more pleasing," he said.
While Republican and Democratic lawmakers took different messages from the speech, an action right beforehand may better illustrate Brown’s position. The governor’s choice for Attorney General took his oath of office. During his first press conference later in the day, former Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra discussed how aggressively he might litigate federal actions.
"I don’t think California is looking to pick a fight. But we’re ready for one," said Becerra.
That familiar “F” word, which earlier Brown had avoided.
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