Gov. Brown Does the Sacramento Choo-Choo


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Jerry Brown gives great speeches with unusual quotes that never let the listener forget he is a former seminarian. In that spirit during his State of the State address Thursday, Brown quoted jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, told a story from Genesis and marveled at the “mysterious cycle in human events” observed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. He moved on to Michel de Montaigne and Irish poet William Butler Yeats. But then Brown ventured into the land he rarely visits, the land of words with one syllable. He ended his address before a joint session of the California Legislature by invoking “The Little Engine That Could.”

“I think I can,” the governor choo-chooed. “I think I can.”

“And over the mountain the little engine went. We’re going to get over that mountain. I have no doubt about it.”

Though Brown was referring to high-speed rail, in a sense Brown was referring to both himself and California. In 2010, he won election to reclaim California’s governorship — 36 years after he first was elected to the job. And in November, he persuaded state voters to raise income and sales taxes to balance the state budget.

Before Brown, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to coax voters to do likewise but failed. Brown’s Proposition 30 passed with an amazing 55 percent of the vote. Brown thought he could, and he did.

Now California has gone over the mountain. In 2010, California was very blue. Democrats held every statewide office, as well as a majority of seats in the Assembly and Senate.

In 2013, the Golden State is even bluer. For most of this session, Democrats are expected to hold a supermajority in both houses. Republicans won’t be able to stop tax increases by withholding the votes needed to reach the two-thirds threshold.

For the first time in years, the Democrats who gave California close to a decade of shortfalls and red ink won’t be able to blame Sacramento’s dysfunction on the GOP. So what are they doing? They’re talking like Republicans.

“Fiscal discipline is not the enemy of our good intentions,” quoth Brown, “but the basis for realizing them.” He lauded “the wisdom of Joseph,” who saved up for hard times. He urged lawmakers not to write too many laws “constantly expanding the coercive power of government.”

“It appears we have a Republican governor,” quipped dubious state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber. As long as I’ve known Brown, he has prided himself for sporting a conservative streak. Brown thought as much when he was mayor of Oakland and California’s attorney general.

Now that the Democrats have a supermajority, Brown is going to feel what it is to be righteously right. Party progressives will be clamoring for new programs and creative tax hikes that threaten to destabilize state coffers.

“No spending splurges,” state Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, assured me. California needs “job growth.”

It’s hard to imagine such discipline lasting. By nature, Democrats spend too much. Without the check of the GOP, there will be only Brown to slow that runaway train.

Forget “I think I can.” For the next two years, Brown will be muttering to himself, as if to Democratic leaders, “No, you don’t.” In his dreams, Brown will be seeing Gray Davis — the governor voters recalled in 2003, in part because of a party-driven tripling of the vehicle license fee.

During Brown’s first stint as governor, columnist Mike Royko dubbed him “Governor Moonbeam.” The second time around, Brown could become known as “Governor No.”

Email Debra J. Saunders at: [email protected].

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