Jerry Brown sets no-nonsense tone for California in inauguration speech

Gov. Jerry Brown urged lawmakers of both political parties to get out of their comfort zones and rise above ideology for the good of the state in a 16-minute inauguration speech Monday.

Robert Durell/Reuters
Jerry Brown (l.) is sworn as governor of California as his wife, Anne Gust Brown, holds a Bible and California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye administers the oath of office in Sacramento on Monday.

Although nearly giddy with obvious delight, Jerry Brown was all business in his 16-minute inaugural speech today. Experts say he wants to set the tone – especially in his crucial first 100 days – that he intends to be a no-nonsense, practical governor who won’t squander political capital the way predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger did, missing early opportunities to take action before goodwill wanes.

"The year ahead will demand courage and sacrifice," Governor Brown said after taking the oath from California Supreme Court Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. Brown noted the strain the recession has put on California and referred to polls that show most voters believe the state is on the wrong track. He urged lawmakers of both political parties to get out of what he called their "comfort zones" and to "rise above ideology" for the good of the state.

His main themes were drawn from his campaign stump speeches: no new taxes without a vote of the people, restoring as much local control of government as possible, and speaking the truth about the budget – no smoke or mirrors. He spoke of the sacrifices of his own ancestors, crossing the continent in a covered wagon, invoked the name of his own father, former Governor Pat Brown several times, and introduced his 99-year-old aunt as evidence that he’s not going anywhere.

“It was very clear that here is a guy who is invested in California and is not some kind of political hustler or gimmick man,” says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, political scientist at University of Southern California. “He has a long history in this state and understands it well.”

“It was a fine speech. This was not the firebrand Jerry Brown of 1975,” says Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. “This was the older, wiser, more patient Jerry Brown.”

Brown promised to focus on the state's financial problems and asked Californians to prepare to make hard choices about what they want from their state government. He was introduced by his wife of five years, former Gap Inc. executive Anne Gust Brown, inside Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. She held a Bible that was her grandfather's and was used during her wedding to Brown.

The austere ceremony – followed by hot dogs and chips for attendees – was not without its lighter moments. During the oath, in repeating the words, “without mental reservation,” Brown verbally stumbled, paused and said, “no really … without mental reservation ….” The crowded howled.

“He was in as good a mood as I’ve ever seen him,” says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College.

Schwarzenegger and former first lady Maria Shriver, former Gov. Gray Davis, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were among about 3,000 in attendance

Brown’s first order of business is to have a budget proposal in the hands of legislators by next Monday, January 10. The state’s troubling finances – including but not limited to a $28 billion budget deficit – are expected to consume most of his time for the first year in office, observers say. At two public forums last month – one on education as the state’s largest expenditure and the other forum on the state budget -- Brown already laid out a bleak scenario, showing his hand so Democrats, Republicans and citizens will know to expect reductions in service and further funding cuts.

“The new governor's message is: This is going to hurt,” says Pitney. “But he is trying to temper Brownian realism with a touch of Reaganesque optimism. This was a trip to the dentist and the optimistic language was a lollypop.”

Amid the state's budget crisis, the cost of the reception was kept to around $100,000, administration officials say, compared to the same event at the start of Arnold Schwarzenegger's second term which they say cost more than $2 million.

Brown becomes only the second governor in California history to serve a third term. Earl Warren, who was governor from 1943 to 1953, was elected to three terms but left in the middle of his final term, when he was appointed chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by President Dwight Eisenhower. He is the first governor to serve non-consecutive terms, serving previously from 1975 to 1983.

Lawmakers and Capitol staffers briefed by the new administration say Brown plans to ask California voters to extend billions in sales, income and vehicle taxes in a special election later this year.

Brown read from his great grandfather's diary of the trip, which detailed oxen, horses and mules lying dead in the fields, overcome by thirst and starvation.
"Stories of courage abound" in this state, Brown said. "The people of California have not lost the pioneering spirit or capacity to meet life's challenges. ... This is a time to honestly assess our financial condition and make the tough choices."

Ending on a light note, Brown said, "As the song goes, "California here I come, right back where we started from."

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