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State of the State: Jerry Brown twists Republican arms – with a smile

Jerry Brown's State of the State met expectations: 15 minutes focused on his plan for closing California's $25.4 billion deficit, with just a touch of humor to try to bring Republicans on board.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / February 1, 2011

California Governor Jerry Brown speaks to reporters after delivering the State of the State address in Sacramento, Ca. on Jan. 31. Brown pressed California lawmakers in his state-of-the-state address on Monday to let voters decide on his budget plan, saying any attempt to block a special election on the issue would be irresponsible.

Max Whittaker/Reuters

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Los Angeles

Gov. Jerry Brown’s State of the State address was everything most experts said it would and could be: serious, focused, not without humor – and very short.

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In about 15 minutes, he stuck Monday to the sober task of how to close the state’s $25.4 billion deficit by pushing on Republicans to agree to the special election he needs in June for voters to raise taxes. Frankly, but without being caustic, he quickly touched on the extended levies on income, sales, and cars needed to close that gap.

“He ratcheted up pressure on Republicans in the legislature but was very careful not to sound like he is threatening voters,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “He’s been very careful not to do that while at the same time making sure they know there are worse options.”

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Reiterating a key point from his Jan. 3 inaugural address, Governor Brown asked legislators to put aside their partisan differences for the good of the state. “Under our form of government, it would be unconscionable to tell the electors of this state that they have no right to decide whether it is better to extend current tax statutes another five years or chop another $12 billion out of schools, public safety, our universities, and our system of caring for the most vulnerable,” he said.

“My plan to rebuild California requires a vote of the people, and frankly I believe it would be irresponsible for us to exclude the people from the process,” he continued.

Arm-twisting, with levity

Avoiding the lengthy, highly detailed, agenda-heavy diatribes that many State of the State addresses have become, Brown interjected arm-twisting with levity.

“I want to see a few Republicans clapping on that,” he said drolly after announcing “it is time for a legislative check-in” with the people. “Or, if you want to block the people’s right to vote, stand up and say, ‘Block that punt!’ ”

Other analysts said the address was “professorial,” but not without charm.

“He didn’t use a teleprompter – the first I’ve seen that in years – and was very earnest because of it, I think it worked for him,” said Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. “It was very crisp, Mr. Chips like – the visual image was cute.”

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