Jerry Brown's 5 best State of the State moments

Call it a California Humblebrag.

Gov. Jerry Brown's State of the State address most notable feature may have been the gentle back-and-forth sway of its rhetoric and message -- boasting about California's successes in one passage and its tough times in the next, pledging bold leadership in one breath and caution and carefulness in another.

A 'humblebrag,' even though the trendy word doesn't always have the most noble connotations.

Perhaps it was this blend of pride and prudence that made the 16 minute and 56 second speech a study in contrasts -- a speech Brown wrote himself, and one that reflects the way he's governed since returning to the state Capitol in 2011.

Here are 5 of the speech's most interesting moments:

Sell It, Sutter: For a governor who seems to dislike political gimmicks, the most memorable moment in this State of the State speech was probably one that wasn't quite as clear on TV as it was in the chamber. Brown's speech had been handed out with a playing card that featured a historical graph of California budget boom and bust periods on one side, and a photo of the governor's dog, Sutter, on the other.

Don't let our balanced budget go to the dogs! read one of the cards. In all, there were five other versions of Sutter sayings on the cards --

Always keep a bone buried in the back yard.

Bark if you hate deficits!

Let's keep new spending on a short leash.

A prudent Corgi knows to nibble at his kibble.

Save some biscuits for a rainy day.

Brown's dog has a bipartisan fan base, more than 6,000 followers on Twitter, and is generally good at disarming those who might be grumpy about the governor's political choices. So why not use Sutter to help soft-sell a message to legislative Democrats: we can't spend too much of the estimated $6 billion short-term budget surplus.

"We will pay down our debts," said Brown, "and remember the lessons of history."

Can Brown Steer the Capitol Towards New Reserve Fund? Absent any legislative action, voters will be asked in November to enact a new state constitutional amendment that would mandate more tax revenues than ever before be placed into a 'rainy day' reserve - a fund that, unlike the existing reserve, would be harder to raid and harder to avoid. But that proposed amendment, hashed out in 2009 and 2010 by a bipartisan legislative vote, was never popular with Democrats. Now, with Dems holding a supermajority of seats and Brown as governor, there's an effort underway to re-do the proposed rainy day fund. But the details will be contentious, even inside the ranks of Democrats.

While the governor didn't offer much detail in his State of the State, he did lay out his demands: more flexibility in using surplus money to pay debt, including the Byzantine rules that control school funding in the crafting of the amendment, and specifically focus on the state's most volatile tax revenues -- capital gains earned by the most wealthy. All of those may sound simple, but combined they're a tall order.

A Splash of Drought: The governor's recent formal declaration of something everyone in California now knows well - an historic drought -- was thought to perhaps recast this speech as a call to arms to confront a looming crisis. Not so much, as it turns out. While Brown didn't hide the urgency of the drought, he also avoided endorsing any particular actions. He also, gently but noticeably, used the drought to talk about climate change and California's multitude of first-in-the-nation actions to help ease the impact. "We can take this drought as a stark warning of things to come," said Brown in the speech.

Gavin and Jerry, Again: Much has been written, and maybe too much made, in years past about the somewhat complicated relationship between Governor Brown and the number two guy, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. The history is long and twisted, and certainly seemed a little tense when Newsom initially challenged Brown's quest for another term in 2010. But Newsom is always quick to praise Brown's leadership, and did so in Wednesday's introduction of the governor.

And yet... there was a chuckle from a new example of the younger man/older man dynamic, after Newsom started to dream about the future in his remarks.

"The rate in change in this world is unimaginable," gushed Newsom.

Brown, taking the podium moments later, decided that sounded a little like a post-Jerry Brown world. "Lt. Governor, I appreciate change, but I also value continuity," he said as the crowd chuckled.

And then he added, as if anyone needed it, "My message: there's no substitute for experience."

What Wasn't Talked About: So what was noticeably absent from the governor's 2014 kickoff speech? Probably nothing more obvious than a defense of one of his most beleaguered projects: high speed rail. Whereas the 2013 speech was remembered for his quip linking the bullet train to a beloved children's book (a suggestion, it turned out, of First Lady Anne Gust Brown), this year Brown uttered the phrase "high speed rail" just once.

He also didn't talk about the need -- or plans -- for a multi-billion dollar water bond on the November ballot, even as a number of water policy players are negotiating on the issue and Democrats believe an existing, and much larger, water bond needs to be removed from that same ballot. Two Capitol sources, who didn't want to be identified speaking about a private meeting, say that Brown has suggested to them now - while he's preaching debt reduction - may not be the time to ask voters to borrow big bucks.

And an honorable mention in this category: another hotly debated project, the one to dig twin water tunnels underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Brown referred to the larger project by its formal name, the "Bay Delta Conservation Plan," but he did not promote the project in an otherwise water-conscious statewide speech.

John Myers is News10's political editor. Check out his Twitter feed on California politics, his Facebook page, and the weekly News10 Capitol Connection politics podcast.


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