That, in fact, seemed to be Brown’s intent in presenting a vision of the state that would have made the great California historian Kevin Starr, who died 10 days ago, proud. Starr in many volumes focused on California’s promise, and its ability to regenerate itself despite the perils it periodically faces.
Typically, an inaugural address is an inspirational speech to the nation. California’s state of the state speech usually describes policy proposals the governor plans to undertake.
This year, the speeches did not fall into either of those categories. Trump offered a profoundly bleak view of an American landscape characterized by carnage rather than accomplishment. A failed education system was a key part of the problem, Trump said, leaving children devoid of “all knowledge” despite schools being “flush with cash.”
He said he was actually amazed at how much the state has accomplished during his two most recent terms as governor. Rather than claiming total credit for it, he talked about “how much we have accomplished together.” One accomplishment, he noted, was “increased support, by tens of billions of dollars, for our public schools and universities.”
Brown did not mention the newly-inaugurated president by name in his speech, but the point-by-point rebuttal of many of Trump’s assertions were clear.
In the spirit of his campaign pledge to expel millions of undocumented immigrants, Trump vowed in his inaugural address to “bring back our borders.”
Brown, however, said California was a welcoming state, and that immigrants were an “integral part of who we are and what we have become.” California, he said, does not have the Statue of Liberty, but it does have the Golden Gate “and a spirit of adventure and openness that has welcomed one wave of immigration after another.” He referred to his own great-grandfather who came from Hamburg in 1852 on a ship named “Perseverance.”
He drew a line in the sand against Trump’s threats to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. “Let me be clear,” Brown said, “we will defend everybody, every man, woman and child, who has come here for a better life and has contributed to the well-being of our state.”
In the face of current efforts by Trump and Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Brown also vowed to do “everything we can to preserve health coverage for Californians,” as well as California’s landmark legislation on climate change.
He also offered California as a model for how Republicans and Democrats could work together. During his term of office, relations with Republicans have been far less conflictual than they have been in decades.
“Democrats are in the majority, but Republicans represent real Californians too,” Brown said. “We went beyond party when we reformed workers’ compensation, when we created a rainy day fund and when we passed the water bond.”
He unleashed a biting critique of Trump’s chronic looseness with facts, as well as”alternative” facts, including those related to the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration on Friday. .
“When the science is clear or when our own eyes tell us that the seats in this chamber are filled or that the sun is shining, we must say so, not construct some alternate universe of non-facts that we find more pleasing,” he said.
On one issue, he said, there would be common ground with the new Trump administration — building infrastructure. “We have roads and tunnels and railroads and even a dam that the president could help us with,” he said. “And that will create good-paying American jobs.”
Brown acknowledged that the “future is uncertain and dangers abound.” But the dangers, he implied, come as much from Washington as from external forces.
“Whether it’s the threat to our budget, or to undocumented Californians, or to our efforts to combat climate change — or even more global threats such as a financial meltdown or a nuclear incident or terrorist attack — this is a time which calls out for courage and for perseverance,” Brown said, alluding to the name of the ship that brought his forefathers to the United States.
He closed by reciting a little known verse to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” — a song that specifically calls out California as part of the great American experiment.
“Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.”
California, Brown vowed, “is not turning back. Not now, not ever.”
Republicans did not entirely embrace embrace Brown’s optimistic portrayal of the state, an indication that some of the divisions evident on a national level don’t disappear at California’s borders.
“There are really two ‘states of the state’ in California,” said Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley. “One California is populated by wealthy people. They receive excellent healthcare, their children are taught in the best and safest schools. The other California is home to people whose access to health care is limited, their schools are failing and violence is an everyday reality.”
But GOP responses did not have the rancor now evident on a national level. Senate Minority Leader Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield acknowledged the bipartisan accomplishments Brown described, and said she was hopeful that “the governor’s address opens the door to a more positive tone toward partnering with Washington.”
To that end, she said, “I have offered Gov. Brown my help in bridging the gap between Sacramento and our federal partners to help our state succeed.”
This report has been updated to include GOP reaction.