Gov. Jerry Brown hits populist notes in speech to school workers union

Gov. Jerry Brown hits populist notes in speech to the California School Employees Assn.

In a rallying cry to his base, Gov. Jerry Brown boasted of California's liberal accomplishments during his tenure in a Wednesday address to a school employees union.

The speech was a spirited account of Brown's third term, a sign that his so-far muted reelection campaign is becoming more assertive. 

And the governor gleefully batted away conservative critics, particularly those from outside the state. He blasted the "dysfunctionality" of Washington and dismissed the GOP-led House of Representatives as obstructionists.

"And they have the gall to say California has problems," he said. "You've bet we've got problems. Everyone in the world has got problems. But this is a state that is solving them." 

He took more shots at conservatives later in the speech, saying, "California drives the right-wing crazy. The tea party gets all upset. But we're forging ahead."

He cited several laws passed last year that were top priorities of labor unions and liberal groups, including one to raise the minimum wage and another allowing people who are in the country illegally to obtain driver's licenses.

Brown also touted the state's embrace of the Affordable Care Act and the infusion of school funding made possible by Proposition 30, the temporary tax hike the governor campaigned for in 2012.

The speech was enthusiastically received by the members of the California School Employees Assn., whose members packed a hangar-sized hall in the Sacramento Convention Center and chanted "Jerry! Jerry!" as the governor left the stage.

Especially well received was the tinge of populism that ran through the address. Brown noted that the state's recovery has come on the heels of the worst recession since the Great Depression, for which he blamed "bankers and individuals who cared more about their short-term gains than they did about a stable, responsible stewardship of the economy."

Later, he cited an analysis by the bond-rating agency Standard & Poor's that found that inequality has been slowing in the country's economic recovery.

"The folks that run, may I say the word, capitalism -- they have to understand that if the capital isn't in the broad base of the people, they're not going to make any money either and the economy doesn't go anywhere."

He said the S&P report indicated that "now we have official approval of a progressive, more egalitarian politics coming right out of Wall Street."

Brown also obliquely referred to the ongoing battle over the state's teacher tenure laws; in June, a court dealt a blow to teachers unions by finding the tenure law unconstitutional.

Brown skeptically referenced "stories out there" that suggest "if you change a few rules on how they fire people, that will make it unnecessary to have adequate funding to pay for our schools."

"We need good rules, we need good tests, we need good teacher credentialing, we need good employment practices," he said. "But most importantly, we need the funding so that California can do the job that it needs and you can take home decent pay -- a decent day's wage for a decent day's work."

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