Riggs Report: Jerry Brown’s defiant turn

January 26, 2017

State of the State speech foreshadows political warfare

Gov. Jerry Brown was as fired up and animated this week as I’ve seen him in recent years. He used his State of the State address, not to outline a broad agenda of policy goals as he and other governors, have done in the past. But instead, he delivered a passionate pledge before a joint session of the Legislature to defy the Trump Administration’s moves to roll back protections related to health care, immigration and the environment.

“The future is uncertain and dangers abound,” Brown said, in framing California’s role as the face of resistance on a political and legal battlefield that is now forming. “California is not turning back. Not now, not ever.”

Brown’s aggressive stance marks a turn in direction and tone. Until this week, he had been relatively restrained in his remarks about brewing hostilities between Sacramento and Washington, D.C.—seeming to suggest that there should not be a rush to judgement about what President Donald Trump might do.

That restraint ended this week, marking an unusual address to match what have become unusual and uncertain times.

Brown began the annual ceremony by swearing in former Congressman Xavier Becerra as California’s new attorney general, a job that Brown himself once held.

Becerra has pledged to be active in the courtroom in challenging federal policies dealing with funding of sanctuary cities and proposed mass deportations of those who are in this country without documentation.

California’s Democratic leaders in the Assembly and Senate have already entered into a separate contract with former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to advise them on similar legal challenges.

In a blue state like California, where Trump lost the presidential vote by almost 4.3 million votes and where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 3.7 million, there is virtually no political downside for state Democrats to promise to take on Trump.

That became even more apparent on Wednesday when President Trump signed executive orders to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and to withhold federal funds from so-called “sanctuary cities.”

Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, responded by denouncing the President’s moves as counterproductive and divisive.

“These are spiteful and mean directives that will only instill fear in the hearts of millions of people who pay taxes and contribute to our economy and way of life,” De Leon said during a Capitol news conference.

De Leon pledged to move quickly on two bills that would provide legal funds for those facing deportation and would specify that local police not act as immigration agents.

For Brown, the growing conflict provides him with the opportunity to re-take the national stage as a Trump foe—a throwback to the days when Brown was a familiar face to the country as a three-time candidate for president.

In that sense, Brown’s speech could signify yet another new chapter for a politician who was first elected governor in 1973—more than 43 years ago.