On May 24, California Governor Jerry Brown, shuffling through papers that never seemed to be in the right order, made his final speech at the annual California Chamber of Commerce 93rd Host Breakfast before an enthusiastic crowd of more than 1,000 business leaders at the Sacramento Community Center.
I have attended many of these Host Breakfasts. Many governors have addressed the group. There were the Republican governors: George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who made OK speeches with predictable talking points to a receptive audience. There was Democratic Governor Gray Davis, who made an OK speech with predictable talking points to a non-receptive audience. Of these speakers, Arnold was the best, with great delivery. But, these speeches were all like cheap white bread. They filled you up for a little while, but then they were gone.
Then there’s Jerry Brown. His remarks are seemingly an undisciplined, rambling series of observances packed with massive insights. Insights into government, the future and past of California, Greek philosophy, education and numerous other topics, too many to list. I highly recommend you visit the Chamber website and listen to his speech yourself.
When preparing for this speech, Brown said, he reviewed his 1978 speech. He told us that many issues were the same. We still have lot of regulation, a lot of taxes, a lot of lawsuits, just as we did in 1978. But we are not a failed state. Despite these problems, during the last 40 years, our state economy has grown from $175 billion to $2.7 trillion. So, somehow we have figured out how to thrive despite these problems.
Brown reminded us that for thousands of years, California could support only 300,000 people, but now we have 40 million people. To support that growth, Brown says, we had to invest. We had to create. We had to engineer.
We had to build the roads, the bridges, the trains, the tunnels, the schools, the dams, the aqueducts and all the rest of it. We cannot stop. California is not a pristine wilderness. It is a highly engineered, highly sophisticated advanced civilization. We need to continue that investment.
Brown said that it is this heart, this spirit, this willingness to invest that makes California great. Businesses create the products and services, but government creates the infrastructure we need to work together. Supporting the gas tax is one way to invest in our infrastructure and our future.
The other thing to keep in mind is the cyclical nature of our economy. Brown reminded us: It goes up and down. We have had 10 recessions since World War II. We need to put money away for a rainy day, because we are going to need it. When he came into office, we were down $27 billion dollars. Now he leaves a reserve of $14 billion.
He concluded by telling us that he used to think that experience was bunk. But now he says that there is no substitute for experience. Government is complicated. If you have not been around for at least 40 years, you probably do not know what the hell you are doing.
While I have been around for more than 40 years, I still may not know what I am doing. But I always enjoy the opportunity to experience the complex and enlightened brain of Brown.