Capitol Journal: Gov. Jerry Brown got better with calming age and invaluable experience — and so did his signing and veto messages

Gov. Jerry Brown reviews a measure with staff members Camille Wagner, left, Graciela Castillo-Krings at his Capitol office on Sept. 30.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
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Gov. Jerry Brown may have had more fun and been more entertaining while acting on bills than any California governor in history.

He almost certainly has decided the fates of more measures than any governor — 19,680, according to his office. He signed 17,851 and vetoed 1,829, or 9.3%.

The huge volume is because the Democrat has been governor far longer than anyone else — 16 years by the time he walks out the door at year’s end. He is the only California governor to be elected four times — twice in his relative youth and twice as an old guy.


Because of a two-term limit, Brown’s longevity record can never be broken unless voters repeal the law. Brown’s first two terms from 1975 to 1983 didn’t count because the limit wasn’t imposed until 1990.

At 80, Brown is a poster boy for the folly of term limits. He has gotten steadily better with calming age and invaluable experience.

Well, not entirely. As I’ve written before, Brown’s legacy could be tarnished by his stumbling over some bullet-train tracks or being flushed down a monstrous water tunnel.

His $77-billion high-speed rail project is grossly underfunded and way behind schedule. The $17-billion twin-tunnel proposal for the California Delta — a supposed fix for his father Gov. Pat Brown’s state water project — is embroiled in a bitter brawl.

So when Brown tweeted the other day that “16 years — and nearly 20,000 bills later — the desk is clear. #Eureka,” it wasn’t quite correct. The bills are off his desk, but not all the clutter.

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Back to the bills: This year Brown signed 1,016 and vetoed 201 (16.5%), both records for his second tenure as governor.

Brown, as usual, relished attaching to his signings and vetoes brief explanations, often with dry wit and a mini-lecture, some sprinkled with Latin.

He had some overriding policy themes: Resist President Trump. Fight climate change. Bolster local control in California. Be a tightwad on spending increases after the June budget enactment. And reaffirm his oft-stated belief that “not every human problem deserves a law.”

Here’s an example of the type of Brown signing or veto message we’ll miss:

In killing a bill that would have allowed bars to stay open until 4 a.m. in nine cities, including Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Long Beach, the governor penned: “I believe we have enough mischief from midnight to 2 without adding two more hours of mayhem.”

Sober thinking.

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In vetoing legislation that would have banned smoking in state parks and on beaches, Brown observed: “I have vetoed similar measures in each of the last two years. Third time is not always a charm.... We have many rules telling us what we can’t do and these are wide open spaces.”

Last year, the nonsmoker asserted in his veto: “There must be some limit to the coercive power of government.”

Agreed. But government coercion clearly does have its place in Brown’s philosophy. He signed a bill requiring publicly traded corporations headquartered in California to put women on their boards. We’re the first state to do that.

Brown acknowledged that the legislation could be tossed out by federal courts. “Serious legal questions have been raised,” he wrote. “I don’t minimize the potential flaws….

“Nevertheless, recent events in Washington D.C. — and beyond — make it crystal clear that many are not getting the message…. It’s high time corporate boards include the people who constitute more than half the [population] in America.”

Brown sent a copy of his signing message to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which had been hearing testimony regarding sexual assault accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who emphatically denies them. The committee is controlled by 11 Republicans, all white men.


Come again? This is a non sequitur. What has requiring female membership of private boards to do with the genders of a Senate committee? The makeup of congressional panels is way out of the jurisdiction of any chief executive, in Sacramento or Washington.

Brown stuck to his local-control theme by vetoing a bill that would have required public middle and high schools to wait until 8:30 a.m. to begin classes.

“This is a one-size-fits-all approach that is opposed by teachers and school boards,” he wrote. “These are the types of decisions best handled in the local community.”

Too bad. Some kids will have to keep walking to school right after sunup and snoozing in their first class.

Brown took a slap at the president by signing a measure restoring net neutrality rules that were repealed by the Trump administration. The feds immediately sued, contending that states don’t have the power to stop companies from blocking access to the internet.

Good for the governor.

With Brown cruising out of Sacramento, maybe we can finally mothball his canoe — or better yet, scuttle it. That’s the old vessel that, as the governor long ago told us, he paddles on the left and then on the right to keep going down the middle. It has hauled way too much trite verbiage.


In the governor’s final bill signing message, in which he opined on Moses and Exodus, Brown attached a P.S.: “And now onto the Promised Land — Colusa County.”

Brown is building a retirement home on his family’s isolated ancestral spread in the Sacramento Valley foothills. That’s not a place for canoes. We’ll see how lasting a place it is for a career politician.

He’ll at least have plenty of time to write pithy messages.

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