Gov. Jerry Brown delivers his annual State of the State address Tuesday in Sacramento, Calif. | AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
In his State of the State speech, the California governor issues a scathing rebuke of the new president.
SACRAMENTO — The governor of the nation’s largest state delivered a pugilistic rebuke of Donald Trump on Tuesday during his State of the State address, presaging years of bitter conflict between Washington and the state that rejected him by a landslide margin.
In promising to confront Trump on issues ranging from immigration to health care and the environment, Gov. Jerry Brown further entrenched California as an outpost of resistance, setting the tone for four years of politics in this heavily Democratic state.
“This morning, it’s hard for me to keep my thoughts just on California,” Brown said. “We’ve seen the bald assertion of ‘alternative facts,’ whatever those are. We’ve heard the blatant attacks on science. Familiar signposts of our democracy — truth, civility, working together — have been obscured or even swept aside.”
For a fourth-term governor who long ago abandoned his own presidential ambition, Brown’s defiant speech signaled an eagerness to collide with Trump on a national stage, casting California as “beacon of hope to the rest of the world.”
Addressing a joint session of the Legislature four days after Trump’s inauguration, Brown said, “This is a time which calls for courage and for perseverance, and I promise you both.”
Before Tuesday, Brown had been more cautious than many other California Democrats to criticize Trump. While telling a group of scientists in December that the state was “ready to fight,” Brown had also said he would “just have to wait to see how … different issues emerge under the new president.”
But in recent days, Brown moved more urgently. In a letter to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy this month, the 78-year-old governor said repealing the federal health care overhaul would be “a very cynical way to prop up the federal budget — and devastating to millions of Americans.” Then, minutes after Trump’s inauguration on Friday, California air regulators released a proposed plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
On Tuesday, Brown contrasted Trump’s inauguration with protest marches over the weekend he said reflected a “vast and inspiring fervor that is stirring in the land.”
Brown cast California a place where immigrants could “realize their dreams,” while “making our state what it is today: vibrant, even turbulent, and a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.” While recognizing the supremacy of federal law on immigration, Brown vowed to defend measures the state has taken in recent years to protect undocumented immigrants.
“We may be called to defend those laws, and defend them we will,” Brown said.
Open battle with Washington could come quickly. While Brown said Planned Parenthood had been “unfairly attacked,” repeal of the Affordable Care Act could cripple California’s budget. Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding for sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants, and at a confirmation hearing last week, Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, left open the possibility the administration could seek to undermine California’s vehicle emission standards, a central piece of the state’s environmental agenda.
“Whatever they do in Washington, they can’t change the facts,” Brown said. “And these are the facts: The climate is changing, the temperatures are rising, and so are the oceans. Natural habitats everywhere are under stress.”
Brown said “the world knows this” and that states and other countries can work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions regardless of federal policy.
For all of his opposition to Trump, Brown held out hope that the president could prove helpful on infrastructure. Brown has called for spending billions of dollars on roadwork in the state and is laboring to push forward with high-speed rail and a $15.5 billion Delta water plan.
“Now here’s a topic where the president has stated his firm intention to build and build big,” Brown said.
Of the president’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, added, “I say, ‘Amen to that, man!”
But in every other aspect, Brown offered a call to arms. More forceful than in previous years, the speech marked a return to conflict on a national stage for Brown, a three-time presidential candidate who once waged open war against corporate money in politics while heralding an “era of limits” and his vision of “planetary realism.”
In more recent years, Brown’s international advocacy on climate change served largely as a model, not an adversary, for a Democratic White House.
“I think more than ever, in view of Trump’s election, (Brown) is viewing California more as a country than as a state,” said Orville Schell, who wrote a biography of Brown in 1978 and remains in contact with him.
Brown has maintained favorable public approval ratings in his fourth and final term, while Trump in California is reviled. A recent Hoover Institution Golden State poll found just 36 percent of state residents expect the president’s term will be successful. And despite the near-impossibility of the idea, a Reuters/Ipsos poll this week found 32 percent of state residents support withdrawal from the United States.
State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León called Brown’s speech “powerful and boldly truthful,’’ and he lauded the governor for putting “the focus on something that is quite frightening in the American body politic, which is this idea of alternative facts, which we interpret as lies.”
Still, Brown’s looming confrontation with Trump comes amid uneasiness at home. Earlier this month, Brown proposed slower growth in school spending and reductions in other planned spending increases to close a projected $1.6 billion budget deficit next budget year, frustrating many Democratic lawmakers who are pressing to expand social services.
State Senate Republican Leader Jean Fuller described Brown’s remarks as “toned down somewhat” from what Democratic lawmakers have expressed in recent weeks, and she expressed support for Brown’s remarks on infrastructure.
“However, there is some concern about immigration and some of the other issues that still sounded a little hostile,’’ she said.