Our View: Gov. Brown’s mission is to mess up in an election year

January 22, 2014 

Jerry Brown spoke about water and drought in his State of the State speech Wednesday without mentioning his $25 billion Delta-bypass tunnel proposal.

He talked about the need to restrain spending and build a reserve in preparation for the next economic downturn, but made only passing reference to the high-speed rail he hopes to construct, and didn’t bring up the $68 billion price tag. He cited accomplishments in his first term – stabilizing the budget, expanding health care and reducing prison population among them – but didn’t spell out much of a vision for the coming year.

As he read his roughly 17-minute speech from paper and not a teleprompter, Brown made clear that he intends to avoid missteps as he heads into his final re-election campaign.

That is a perfectly fine campaign strategy, given his lead in the polls. But it’s hardly a recipe for a compelling, soaring or inspiring State of the State speech.

From the right, interestingly, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Neel Kashkari, chastised him for failing to mention poverty. From the left, billionaire Tom Steyer called for an end to fracking, and urged Brown to recognize petroleum’s toll, and called for an oil severance tax. Brown addressed none of it, at least not Wednesday.

The high point came when he showed officials gathered in the Assembly chamber one of a series of playing cards featuring his dog, Sutter, though no one other than the people directly around him could make out what he was displaying.

On one side of the cards, a chart depicts the volatile nature of California’s tax revenue. The flip sides include quotes attributed to the dog, like always keep a bone buried in the backyard.

The message of fiscal restraint is important, and one the governor should reiterate in this election. But if he wins a fourth and final term, as seems likely, he should consider a bolder State of the State speech for 2015. Much of what he failed to mention or dealt with only fleetingly should still be up for debate.

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