SACRAMENTO -- Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown gave a rousing pro-worker speech to a ballroom filled with union representatives Monday night, thanking organized labor for helping pass his vote-approved tax hike in 2012 and worker's compensation reform and vowing to be “around for the next five years.’’
Brown, who is running for a unprecedented fourth term, also took a few shots at Republicans in what had the tone of a red-meat campaign speech, complete with a list of his accomplishments over the last three years and a warning of the work that lies ahead.
“Relative to what’s just and what we want, we’re not there yet. Not even close,’’ Brown told members of the California Labor Federation and State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. “But if we compare ourselves to Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio, we look pretty damn good.”
The labor conference was held at the Sheraton Grand hotel in Sacramento, a few blocks from the Capitol, and so many Democratic lawmakers attended Monday night’s dinner that it took more than five minutes for them to be introduced.
Art Pulaski, the Labor Federation’s executive secretary-treasurer, called Brown a champion of labor, saying that the governor signed nearly 40 “pro-worker” bills this term, including a raise in the minimum wage and workplace protections to warehouse workers, domestic workers and immigrants.
Labor invested heavily in Brown’s 2010 campaign, spending more than $29 million on his behalf and contributing millions more directly to his campaign.
Brown opened up by brushing aside his Republican opponents -- Assemblyman Tim Donnelly and former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari -- telling union members that he wasn't going to mention them because “most of you don’t know their names.”
He also reached back in time to criticize GOP lawmakers for blocking his proposal to extend a temporary sales tax in 2011 to help mend the state’s ailing finances. He said the Republican opposition led to Proposition 30, which voters approved in 2012 to temporarily raise income taxes on the wealthiest Californians.
“Thank god, because that tax was a regressive sales tax,’’ Brown said. “If it wasn’t for the Republicans, we could have never gone for a progressive income tax.’’
Brown also boasted that Proposition 30 was approved by voters because 99% of the people who cast ballots knew they didn't have to pay the tax increase.
During the speech, which lasted just over 15 minutes, Brown also defended his controversial plans for a costly high-speed train network and massive water tunnels that would move billions of gallons from the northern half of the state to the south. The governor said the projects would create jobs and benefit Californians for generations.
And, on occasion, an amped-up Brown appeared to be channeling a late-night comedian.
“There’s a lot of old people who shouldn’t be driving. They should be sitting in a nice train car, working on their iPad, having a martini,’’ Brown quipped.