There is no mistaking Gov. Jerry Brown for anything other than a partisan Democrat. And yet, there’s a sense he views the label with some discomfort.
He is, after all, as unique in politics as California is in the national mosaic. Brown sat down with The Times for an extended interview at his rural ranch, northwest of Sacramento. What follows are lightly edited excerpts of the day’s conversation:
You’ve been a pretty vocal critic of the tax plan passed in Washington recently...
There was a problem with the 35% [federal corporate tax rate]. But to cut it all the way down to 21%, you’re putting a lot of cash in the hands of corporate entities that already have a lot of cash. I mean, I think that some have trillions of dollars, all the American corporations, in aggregate. So you’re giving them money, and we’ll see how much goes to the shareholders and the bonuses. We’ll see how much it stimulates. But also, we’re borrowing [to pay for the tax cut]. It’s a highly dishonest program that fits in with gratify-me-now, don’t tell me about the future. So, that is not a politics of truth-telling. That’s a politics of evasion and distortion, and actual betrayal of the future.
But 12 of California’s 14 congressional Republicans voted for the tax plan...
They’re loyal to their party, not necessarily to the people of California. And they all believe that Californians should be punished because we have a very progressive income tax... So now it’s even more burdensome, which I don’t think makes any sense at all.
What do you say to Democrats who insist to work with Trump is to ‘normalize’ his behavior?
I think Trump is a very problematic factor in American society and politics, how to deal with him… We have to work with [Republicans] when it’s for California. We’re both partisans and citizens.... I mean, if he wants to give money to high-speed rail, I’m certainly going to take it. And if he wants to help us build our roads and bridges, we’re certainly going to look forward to that.
Should Trump be impeached?
I certainly wouldn’t take that off the table. Let’s see what we find out about his financial dealings. Make no mistake, Mr. Trump is a danger. Particularly in North Korea.… I think there are a lot of problems to handling him. This is a real dilemma, for America and for the world. And certainly for the Democrats.
Will you endorse anyone in the race for governor? Will you get involved?
I don’t know. I’m not inclined to.... I’m looking forward to seeing what they propose, knowing what I know. I think they’ve been fairly general to date. So astute political candidates will be careful how they express what they propose to do.... And I tell you, if the next move is going to be just spend California into massive deficits, we know that that will not redound to the credit of the governor, whoever he or she might be.
You’re often called a bit of a doomsayer. And yet, politics is usually about promising people things.
Or the art of fooling people, which is not good either. You need a politics of truth-telling. And the truth is we’ve got a lot of big challenges.... We are fragmented. And Trump is dividing. Fox News divides. A lot of the Democrats divide. You’ve got to find that common, that commonality. And you can’t be loyal just to your identity. That just creates infinite conflict. But you can be loyal to the idea of California, and to the state.