Opinion

Dan Walters: A better alternative to the State of the State address?

dwalters@sacbee.comJanuary 19, 2014 

Dan Walters

Later this week, Jerry Brown will walk into the Capitol’s Assembly chambers and deliver an address that’s more or less required by the state constitution.

Actually, Article 5, Section 3, only requires that “the governor shall report to the Legislature each calendar year on the condition of the state and may make recommendations.”

Governors have complied by addressing the Legislature each January, but these speeches only lightly touch on the “condition of the state” as a whole and are usually just platforms for expounding on the incumbent’s legislative agenda, especially his budget.

Over Brown’s 11 years as governor – in two stints separated by almost three decades – his State of the State addresses have ranged from brief and perfunctory to, more recently, sweeping monologues on history and philosophy, punctuated with Latin phrases.

This year’s version will likely set the tone for Brown’s final campaign for governor – as an advocate for educational reform, for paying down debt, and for building two big public works projects.

The media will duly report on and analyze the address in its political context, and it will quickly be filed away with other forgettable addresses.

Would there be a better way of complying with the state constitution, one with a more lasting effect?

Joe Mathews, a journalist and blogger who specializes in critiquing California governance, believes so, writing recently that a real report on “the condition of the state” should embrace far more than the current political agenda, and reflect California’s incredible socio-economic diversity.

He would have the governor host a monthly town hall in one of the state’s 12 regions that would give him and other politicians exposure to life outside the Los Angeles-Sacramento-San Francisco triangle and give ordinary citizens an opportunity to talk.

The regional reports could then be gathered into a report that would, indeed, describe the condition of the state and ways to improve it.

“It might be big and unwieldy, but it would come closer to capturing California than the address the governor will give later this month,” Mathews wrote.

Yours truly has suggested similar learning tours in the past, and Brown has at least paid lip service to the concept.

During his first governorship, he actually held a few town hall meetings until being distracted by presidential ambition.

Brown also staged personal hearings on the state budget crisis after winning the governorship in 2010 and last week stopped in some rarely visited inland cities for dialogue with local officials and the media.

Brown is, therefore, already gaining the personal knowledge about California that would, as Mathews suggests, fuel a report on the “condition of the state” with more heft than another campaign pitch or exhibition of Jesuitical erudition.

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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