Brown expected to stress his gains in State of the State speech

SACRAMENTO — With the state's finances in the black and a probable reelection bid to come, Gov. Jerry Brown's State of the State address Wednesday is expected to hew to a familiar theme: Stay the course.

As with the budget blueprint that Brown introduced recently, his address to a joint session of the Legislature is likely to highlight the state's improving financial health and his accomplishments of the last three years.


"That's his reelection message: progress," predicted Bill Whalen, a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution who was a speechwriter for former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.

Like most things in the Brown administration, however, details of Wednesday's address have been tightly held. The governor typically writes his speeches himself, and last week he said he had not yet begun "putting pen to paper."

But in public appearances this month, the 75-year-old Brown, a Democrat, has touted his success in bringing the state's budget into balance and directing more money to schools that serve the disadvantaged. He has advocated greater control for school districts over how they spend their state funds and emphasized greater responsibility for counties to jail criminals.

The state is now running a surplus, thanks to cuts and tax increases backed by Brown and his fellow Democrats, as well as to an improving economy. At the same time, Brown has made a point of pairing that positive news with cautionary notes, saying that the government's long-term worker retirement benefits and other obligations are reason enough to keep spending in check.

"This year, the news is very good, but by no means are we out of the wilderness yet," Brown told reporters recently. "We must be very prudent in how we spend public funds."

The notion of the governor as a moderate backstop to liberal Democratic impulses to spend was central to Brown's 2010 campaign for governor and has prevailed throughout his first term.

Still, Brown has used previous State of the State speeches to defend heavy investment in public works projects — namely massive tunnels for moving water and a $68-billion bullet train network — that he says will prepare California for the future.

Brown has also been known to air major themes before delivering his addresses. Water woes, fast emerging as a politically volatile issue that Brown will be forced to address this year, could be one.

Brown declared a statewide drought emergency last week. That put the spotlight on his controversial plan to send more Northern California water to the south, threatening to rekindle a geographic divide that singed him during his first go-around as governor.

In San Francisco, where he made the drought declaration Friday, Brown called for "a coming together of all of the people of California…. I think the drought emphasizes that we do live in an era of limits, that nature has its boundaries and that we have to be as efficient and elegant in the way we live and the way we conduct ourselves."

Meanwhile, without details about the speech, Capitol observers have been left to guess which obscure philosopher, Latin phrase or biblical tale will be woven into it. Last year's address included mentions of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Joseph and the Pharaoh, Abraham Lincoln, Gaspar de Portola, Junipero Serra, Michel de Montaigne, William Butler Yeats and "The Little Engine That Could."

Ultimately, the speech is an opportunity for Brown to "pat himself on the back … and lay out a road map for this year and beyond," said Steve Maviglio, who was a spokesman for former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.

"At the end of the speech," Maviglio said, "every voter should know exactly why they should reelect the governor."


For live updates during the governor's 9 a.m. speech, go to