THE BLOG
12/20/2014 11:42 pm ET Updated Dec 21, 2014

Pre-Holiday Jerry Brown Preps for Term 4

Governor Jerry Brown was resolute when I raised the latest disappointing round of UN climate negotiations in Lima, Peru with him. "California will lead the way," he declared. "Have no doubt."

Brown is not nearly so emphatic about his latest low-key Inaugural celebration, even though it is a record fourth Inaugural coming up on January 5th. Listening to Donna Summer sing at the inaugural ball at Arnold Schwarzenegger's second Inaugural back in January 2007, I took to imagining Brown's Inaugural in 2011 featuring some of his famous backers like the Eagles, Jackson Browne, and former First Old Lady Linda Ronstadt. But Brown and First Lady/Special Counsel Anne Gust Brown opted for a much more low-key celebration instead. Now Brown's fourth Inaugural looks to be more low-key still.

Instead of delivering his address in Sacramento's Memorial Auditorium, which thousands can attend, he will do it inside the Capitol, in the Assembly chamber, with his fourth Inaugural Address doubling as the annual State of the State address. As a result, few will be able to witness the speech in person; the gallery in the Assembly chamber has very limited seating.

Of course, the Brown Inaugural is much like the Brown re-election campaign. Brown, who produced no advertisements or even press releases urging his election, ran for governor by being governor. Brown is celebrating his election to a record fourth term as Governor of California with a speech that is his required annual report to the state.

The day after, Brown will go to Fresno to break ground on his controversial high-speed rail project, which veteran Atlantic writer James Fallows says is "the most important public works project in America."

While Brown has pushed the project, which he first thought of during his first go-round as governor in the 1970s and early '80s, his predecessors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis championed the present project. Davis got the necessary bond measure through the legislature. Schwarzenegger got it through the electoral process and garnered billions in federal funds for it.

Brown then undertook a needed revamp of the high-speed rail agency and overall plan, won final passage in the legislature, and successfully fought off multiple legal challenges, not to mention many apparently well-meaning folks advising him to drop the project if he wanted to pass his Prop 30 revenue initiative in 2012.

For Brown, the project, which will take decades even when all funds are in hand, is all about long-range thinking, in part about fulfilling the promise of the state's landmark climate change program. Which is about greenhouse gas reductions not just by 2020 but also by 2050.

Beyond high-speed rail, Brown has the rest of an expansive programmatic reform agenda to keep pushing in his final term, some mid-course adjustments (no Sacramento River Delta pumps on his big water conveyance project, for example), a few crises to handle, and some decisions to make about any new issues.

The ongoing agenda is very aggressive in itself. Water, high-speed rail, corrections realignment, renewable energy and energy conservation, climate change, education reform, space promotion, controlled fracking, Medi-Cal expansion, long-range budget forecasts and interests to rein in and promote.

Then there are some crises to handle. In the short term, Brown has to deal with a Public Utilities Commission grown too cozy with the utilities it's supposed to regulate, especially troubled giant Pacific Gas & Electric, Then he has to get the teachers unions to accede to the obvious and go along with new teacher tenure laws which make it possible to get rid of bad teachers and allow for ongoing efforts to enhance teacher capabilities.

And there are long-range crises requiring more reform with regard to unsustainable public employee pensions and health benefits.

Then, with all his extra time -- that's a little joke -- there's the potential for additional agenda items. There Brown, who has had more ideas than dozens of conventional politicians put together, has a panoply of notions to draw from, including from the least successful of his three presidential campaigns, the 1980 Democratic nomination contest against President Jimmy Carter and Senator Ted Kennedy.

Though Brown never gained real traction in that contest, which quickly turned into a battle between an incumbent Presidency and the restoration of Camelot, his 1980 campaign is the only one that holds real programmatic interest today.

Having been, relatively effortlessly, the runner-up for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination, Brown developed an intriguing program for 1980. The slogan, of course, was awesome. "Protect the Earth, Serve the People, Explore the Universe." Jerry Brown for captain of Spaceship Earth. No wonder that the campaign arrived as the first Star Trek film was released.

Brown called for a constitutional convention for a balanced federal budget, big increases in the space program, and an energy program based on massive expansion of renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts and the phase-out of nuclear power, which had then just suffered through the Three Mile Island accident. He opposed Kennedy's massive national health insurance proposal, instead pushing the promotion of wellness strategies, including rewards for people who engage in healthful living. He also advocated national service for the nation's youth, non-military in nature for those who don't join the armed forces.

But it all fell flat, with the high-water mark for Brown coming with a 14 percent showing in the Maine caucuses. He decided to make a last stand in the Wisconsin primary, with a live televised speech from the state capitol in Madison produced by legendary director Francis Ford Coppola -- who has long helped Brown with his media efforts and was recently enshrined in the California Hall of Fame -- as the centerpiece of the campaign the Friday before the election.

"The Shape of Things To Come," the title an intentional homage to H.G. Wells, was a very good speech, to be sure, years ahead of its time.

"We can invent a future," Brown intoned as he laid out his vision for a high-tech industrial policy encompassing networked personal computers, space exploration, genetic engineering, and new energy and transportation systems. It all sounded very good as I listened to it, in those pre-Net days, over a speakerphone in Santa Monica.

Unfortunately, as I learned as soon as the speech ended, the live TV production faltered badly, the technology not up to Coppola's vision, distracting tremendously from Brown's message as little astronauts tumbled across his forehead. He finished a distant third the following Tuesday and dropped out of the race.

But what was "Moonbeam"-ish then, supposedly, to the small-minded, turns out to be pretty much on the mark today. And tomorrow.

We'll get more of an idea of the shape of things to come in Brown's fourth term on January 5th. And I'll have more just before the Inaugural.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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