SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Amid a “disturbing” shift of political winds on Capitol Hill, California Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday warned of a “battle ahead” and pledged to defend Californians against threats from the federal government.
In a vibrant State of the State address titled “California is Not Turning Back, Not Now, Not Ever,” the 78-year-old Democrat roiled the Assembly chambers and recommitted California to being the bedrock of progressive principles including climate change, immigration and accessible health care.
“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. I promise you both,” Brown said in his 16-minute address.
The fourth-term governor – giving the annual address 42 years after first taking office in 1975 – did not mention President Donald Trump’s name directly, but he didn’t shy away from blasting the new administration.
“While no one knows what the new leaders will actually do, there are signs that are disturbing. We have seen the bald assertion of ‘alternative facts.’ We have heard the blatant attacks on science,” Brown stated.
Immigration was a central theme of the address, with Brown opening the speech by detailing his relatives’ arrival to California from Germany in 1852 aboard a ship named Perseverance. He said California has thrived over the decades due to its welcoming nature and “one wave of immigration after another.”
Prior to the address, Brown swore in new state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the son of Mexican immigrants. Armed with an experienced chief law enforcement officer fresh off serving 24 years in Congress, Brown said California is prepared to reaffirm and defend the state’s principles.
“We may be called upon to defend those laws and defend them we will. And let me be clear: 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,” Brown said enthusiastically.
Brown’s speech, delivered in front of the state Assembly and Senate, came just minutes after Trump issued an executive order to resume progress on the contested Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. Last week during confirmation hearings, Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, said he couldn’t commit to a federal waiver that allows California to set and enforce stringent emissions standards.
While he didn’t mention the president’s controversial order or Pruitt’s testimony, Brown touted California’s commitment to clean energy and said it will continue to set an example for other states on climate change policy.
“We cannot fall back and give in to the climate deniers. The science is clear. The danger is real,” Brown said.
The fiery address included a list of accomplishments achieved during Brown’s last six years in office, including a drop in the unemployment rate and 2.5 million new jobs. Brown also credited the Golden State for raising the minimum wage, reducing prison overcrowding and providing health insurance to over 5 million additional Californians.
Last year, a cautious Brown urged lawmakers to pay down the state’s debt and avoid new spending programs. He warned against the "zigzag of spend-cut-spend budgeting” and pushed for larger commitments to Medi-Cal.
The governor couldn’t escape the unrelenting buzz surrounding Trump and his first actions during his 15th State of the State speech, and routinely jabbed the new president.
“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,” Brown said.
State Republicans reacted bitterly to Brown’s speech and faulted him for neglecting issues such as rising housing costs and violent crime rates.
“Assembly Republicans have real solutions to the problems facing California, without adding to the burdens facing the working families who Capitol Democrats routinely forget,” Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes said in a statement.
Brown relented on the topic of infrastructure and said Sacramento should work with Washington to fix the state’s crumbling roads and infrastructure. He applauded Trump’s “firm intention to build and build big.”
“I say amen to that, man!” Brown added, veering from his scripted speech.
He then encouraged his party to go beyond party lines and create a blueprint of how to overcome bipartisan divisions for the rest of the nation.
Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, said that while he hopes Brown’s call for bipartisanship was genuine, “His address did not give me confidence that we will be moving forward on issues that matter most to Californians.”