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Gov. Brown shows his contrarian side in bills he signed and vetoed

Gov. Brown shows his contrarian side in bills he signed and vetoed
Debbie Ziegler kisses a photograph of her daughter Brittany Maynard after the California Senate passed "aid-in-dying" legislation last month. Maynard took her own life in Oregon under that state's law. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The 2015 award for best writing in the state Capitol goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signing message on the contentious "right to die" bill. No contest.

It was eloquent, succinct and sincere.

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Then, characteristically, Brown wrote a real clunker in trying to explain his veto of another bill aimed at helping the terminally ill, a measure known as "right to try." Very disappointing.

That's Brown. He always has been a contrarian, full of contradictions. Tell him something is colored blue and he'll conclude it's really green. And next time it'll be yellow.

Brown is innately a rebel, starting decades ago when he rebelled against his father's old-school politics. He grew out of that and now seems to idolize his dad, Pat Brown, one of California's greatest governors. But Jerry Brown still is deep down anti-establishment — despite being the epitome of establishment as a career politician — and an oft-irritating nonconformist.

There were plenty of examples as the governor recently signed and vetoed hundreds of bills.

Start with that right to die bill, which will allow terminally ill patients to voluntarily end their painful suffering by taking a lethal drug prescribed by a doctor.

Neither side knew what to expect from Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian. The Roman Catholic Church had adamantly opposed the bill. But he sided with the dying and his explanation couldn't have been written better:

"The crux of the matter is whether the state of California should continue to make it a crime for a dying person to end his life, no matter how great his pain or suffering....

"I have considered the theological and religious perspectives that any deliberate shortening of one's life is sinful. I have also read the letters of those who support the bill, including heartfelt pleas....

"In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death. I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn't deny that right to others."

California is only the fourth state to pass such a law.

Then, a few days later, Brown vetoed the "right to try" bill, which would have allowed desperate patients facing imminent death to obtain experimental drugs still being tested by the cumbersome Food and Drug Administration. His explanation was gobbledygook.

The FDA is trying to speed up "compassionate use" of such meds, the governor wrote, and "we should give this federal expedited process a chance to work."

"Time is the one thing our terminally ill don't have," responded the bill's disappointed author, Assemblyman Ian Calderon (D-Whittier).

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Based on Brown's actions, he apparently thinks it's OK for someone who's terminal to expedite his death, but not to latch onto one last hope for living.

Here's another example of Brown contradiction:

He signed a bill forbidding schools to name their sports teams Redskins. That's insulting to native Americans and the state shouldn't allow it, he thought.

But he vetoed a bill that would have prohibited any public school from being named after a Civil War Confederate. This is an issue, Brown wrote, "quintessentially for local decision makers."

So Redskin is for the state to decide, not local school boards. Robert E. Lee — the turncoat general who fought for slavery — that's none of the state's business. Even if California did side with the Union.

Tax credits: Brown vetoed legislation offering tax breaks for property owners trying to beef up their buildings before the next devastating earthquake strikes. That financial help would "make balancing the state's budget even more difficult," the governor protested.

A little reminder: Last year, when Brown was running for reelection, he signed legislation providing $330 million annually in tax breaks for the film industry if it produced films in California.

And it's not as if the governor isn't worried about earthquakes. He keeps hammering on the potential for a quake-caused levee collapse as a rationale for building humongous, $17-billion twin tunnels to carry water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Never mind that there has never been a major delta temblor in recorded history.

The reality that someday — any day — L.A. will be hit by "the big one," however, does not justify spending state tax money to help property owners prepare, in Brown's thinking.

And speaking of budgets and holding the line on spending, I'll point this out before the emailers do: Brown's bullet train is slated to receive $2.5 billion in cap-and-trade pollution fees paid by greenhouse gas emitters. Why couldn't that money be spent more wisely, on generating renewable energy or building regional water projects?

But enough. Give Brown credit for advocating and signing climate-fighting legislation to require more reliance on renewable energy.

Also, for signing a bill that will register voters when they renew their driver's licenses. That, of course, is a favorite of his fellow Democrats.

And don't forget, Brown earlier signed one of the legislative session's most controversial and important bills: toughening vaccination requirements for schoolchildren by eliminating personal-belief exemptions.

Finally, after nearly two decades, Sacramento also adopted rules for California's out-of-control medical marijuana industry.

The governor and the Legislature actually did some worthwhile stuff this year — unlike those dysfunctional so-called lawmakers in the nation's Capitol.

Twitter: @LATimes.com

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