For the last 87 years, the California Chamber of Commerce has held an annual breakfast where the governor addresses the business community. Over the last 20 years, as a newspaper publisher, and therefore an alleged business leader, I, along with more than 1,000 others, have received an invitation to this event at the Sacramento Convention Center.
I enjoy this event. For one thing, it’s free. The excellent breakfast of ham and eggs is designed to support not just the state’s farmers but also our heart specialists. The governors put on a good show, then, we get to take home a delicious basket of California fruits and vegetables that awaits us the center of each table.
During the Republican administrations of Govs. Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, we heard a “Thank God, I am here to protect you against high taxes and improper regulation, and I recognize that everything important in the world is created by business” speech. The conservative business crowd usually ate it up.
In the Democratic years, things were different. The California Chamber usually puts considerable effort and money into preventing the Democratic governor from taking office. And then they invite him to speak. It’s like having a Hatfield speak at the McCoy dinner party.
When Democratic Gov. Gray Davis came to speak, he somehow managed to find common points of agreement for his speech. They were probably suggested by his polling consultants.
Then came Gov. Jerry Brown. During his first term, there was one year when he actually didn’t speak at all at the annual breakfast. My breakfast companions have never forgotten this. Over the last 20 years of Chamber breakfasts, 50 people must have told me about the year that Brown didn’t show up. It’s mentioned in the same tone as, “Usually our family has a few drinks and then a delicious turkey dinner on Thanksgiving, but one year, the adults got stoned and had tofu.”
This year, in his remarks a few weeks ago, the governor’s speech was classic Jerry Brown. He had notes on paper instead of the usual teleprompter, but his own musings trumped his written remarks. Those musings included: how his return term as governor is like a classic Greek play; the philosopher William James’ thoughts on “The Moral Equivalent of War”; how Brown’s family came to California in the 19th century; the political gridlock caused by the unreasonable positions of both parties; and the ardent belief that we Californians will get through all this. It was quite a speech.
Normally, the governors’ presentations sound good at the time, but the more I mull them over, the less I care about them. After Brown’s speech, I continued to think about it days, even weeks later.
I plan to go next year. With Brown giving the speech, I will surely have something to take home besides just fruit and vegetables.