Donald Trump could learn a thing or two about governing from California Governor Jerry Brown. While President Trump tweets and bleats, Governor Brown uses the bully pulpit sparingly, but with considerable effect.
California’s chief executive has long harbored presidential ambitions—he ran unsuccessfully 3 times (in 1976, 1980 and 1992)—but now realizes the White House is undoubtedly out of his reach. Nevertheless, Brown seems poised to spend the next two years as the “President” of California and one of the most prominent anti-Trump voices in the country.
In the past, Brown has treated the Governor’s annual State of the State address as an obligation to be endured—but not this year. His January 24 speech had all the earmarks of a Presidential State of the Union message. He focused on big-picture issues like immigration and climate change, while spending little time on the state’s more localized, but pressing, problems. His manner was energized—if not agitated– and his speech encapsulated a call to arms against the dystopian antics of President Trump.
While social and main stream media stubbornly hash over “alternative facts,” California continues to reinforce its status as an “alternate universe.” The Golden State’s economy continues to perk along. Health care reform has been a relative success in California. Immigration is embraced and diversity celebrated. The last PPIC survey before the 2016 election found that a majority of Californians believe the state is going in the right direction while the Real Clear Politics national poll numbers show that nearly 6 of 10 Americans say the country is going in the wrong direction.
That’s not to say that California doesn’t have its concerns and challenges. Badly needed transportation funding remains elusive. Housing prices are a major burden and homelessness is a persistent nightmare. Water solutions are as short as supplies. Higher education funding continues to lag. The State’s tax system is too volatile and overly reliant on high-end taxpayers. Public employee pension obligations loom ominously. Potential federal cuts threaten California’s health care system and its fiscal stability. Most Californians, however, haven’t thrown up their hands in disgust. The Governor and State Legislature enjoy approval ratings that President Trump and Congress can only dream about.
A good deal of the credit goes to Governor Brown and his leadership style. In his first go around in the Governor’s office, Brown was brash and provocative; today he is mellower and more pragmatic. These days, Governor Brown’s hallmark is perseverance, not pyrotechnics. Brown sticks to his guns on pet projects like the Bullet Train and Delta Tunnels, but he hasn’t yet cavalierly kicked sand in his opponents’ face. The Governor more often picks his targets and avoids overexposure.
On almost every issue, with the possible exception of infrastructure, California and Trumpworld are inevitably going to be at odds. Even though neither the Trump Administration nor the Republican-controlled Congress is likely to do the Golden State any favors, the state’s sheer size and economic clout make it a force with which to be reckoned. After all, California is the world’s sixth largest economy and it’s gaining on Great Britain.
Each in his own way, Jerry Brown and Donald Trump are both unconventional politicians; however, in approach and expertise, they are worlds apart. The powers of the Presidency are unsurpassed, but California’s Governor out-strips this President in comprehending the arts of governance and compromise (still the currency of policy). That could well make California’s Brown a more formidable opponent for our nation’s new chief executive than any challenger Trump faced throughout last year.
The contrast in political styles and the policy clashes between Governor Brown and President Trump are going to be fascinating to watch. To paraphrase that famous movie line: Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!