Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Meet the New Boss

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Getting ready to watch Jerry Brown take the oath of office — a third time, and a second first term — as California’s 39th governor (he was the Golden State’s 34th governor from 1975-83).

Also trying to find it on television.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the broadcasting gods deemed the changing of the guard in Sacramento no more important than “Family Feud” (local Fox), “The Young and the Restless” (local CBS), “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (local ABC) and some gawdawful tripe called “The Gossip Queens” (local NBC). Welcome to gubernatorial life post-Arnold, Mr. Brown, where getting on the air will be, shall we say problematic.

Whoops, here’s the ceremony — on C-SPAN2. Think the rest of the nation cares more about California than California itself?

OK, on with the show — and some observations as Brown makes history as a two-time governor.

1) First up: California’s new First Lady, Anne Gust Brown. Very gracious, very low-key. The anti-Maria to Jerry’s anti-Arnold. As quick as she’s on the stage, she’s off it — after introducing her hubby. Will be interesting to see what, if any, high-profile role she plays in this administration?

2) Jerry takes the oath — as Jerry, not Edmund G, Jr. He jokes about taking the office without mental reservation. Nice touch — he’s gonna need that sense of humor in the weeks ahead. Big swig of water and it’s big-speech time . . .

3) California is “the great exception”. Talks about government lacking the trust of the people, cynicism filling the void.

4) Three minutes into it and we’ve landed on the budget. Precious little about California rising to challenges, state of optimists, etc. Says we have to work together as Californians first, partisans second.

5) Lays out his campaign message: speak the truth, no new taxes unless publicly voted for, return as much as possible closer to the people. Reminds me of Arnold’s first inaugural and the promises of job creation, getting fiscal house in order, restoring public’s faith in government.

6) This is sounding an awful lot like a State of the State, not an inaugural . . .

7) “At this stage in my life, I didn’t come here to embrace delay and denial”. Good line. now, how to keep say it without antagonizing the Legislature?

8) Recounting how his family came to California, the difficult journey west, singles out 99-year-old aunt after reading from her ancestor’s diary.

9) “The people of California have not lost their pioneering spirit or the capacity to meet new challenges.” Cites Silicon Valley, farmers, Hollywood, teachers, nurses, firefighter, public servants (cha-ching!) . . .

10) Need to find devotion to California — loyalty beyond our narrow perspectives.

11) “California here I come, right back from where I started from.” And that’s it. Not even 15 minutes.

My takeaways:

1) Jerry Brown is a paradox. So is the state he now re-governs. We’ve never been as rich or as poor, at the same as intellectually inventive yet, at times, socially and politically regressive. We’ve never been so crowded, yet so divided along cultural and economic lines. Wish Jerry had explained where he fits into all of this, the changed California he now inherits.

2) His is a life of public service — four decades and counting. Brown should have basked in it — remaining humble, yet addressing the great honor of leading this state, why his family chose to get into this line of work. He did mention past governors . . . wish he’d talked more about what he’s learned along the way.

3) You wanted the anti-Arnold, you got it. Clearly, there was no expensive speechwriter crafting the words. The address didn’t flow, seemed to purposely avoid hitting high notes. He rehashed campaign lingo (“At this point in my life”). And I’m guessing Jerry didn’t spend much time rehearsing it. He ad-libbed the introduction of his aunt, lost his place in his speech. The presentation wasn’t as staged as a Schwarzenegger production — it also wasn’t as . . . well, dignified. A little too manic for my taste, given the pomp of the occasion.

4) What will Brown say in his State of the State that he didn’t today? The way I see it, he has three big speeches this year: 1) inaugural address; 2) State of the State; 3) tv speech (if he so chooses) laying out rationale for special election and public-approved tax increases. Seems to me that #1 stepped on #2.

 5) In the end, all that counts is whether the new governor connected with the people — more so than grade scores from wordsmiths, pundits and propeller heads. I’m guessing the public will find Jerry Brown’s quirks (the jokes, getting rhetorically derailed, the odd energy shifts mid-delivery) charming . . . for now, in that Day One of the new administration is about change and anticipation, not results.

Now that we say goodbye to our second actor-governor, it’s gonna be fun to see how far — and for how long — this new act will play in California.


Written by Bill Whalen

January 3, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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