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California's Brown On Governing: 'Practice Tends To Make More Perfect'


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Governor Jerry Brown took the oath of office this week for his second term as governor of California - his second term. Twenty-eight years separate the time between when he was the 34th Governor of California and now the 39th. At the age of 76, Jerry Brown is both the oldest governor in the state's history and was its youngest governor of 20th century. In his inaugural address, Mr. Brown told the California state house...


GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN: The challenge is to build for the future, not to steal from it, to live within our means and to keep California ever golden and creative, as our forebears have shown and as our descendants would expect.

SIMON: And he proposed a series of initiatives. Governor Jerry Brown joins us from Sacramento. Thanks so much for being with us.

BROWN: Well, thank you.

SIMON: Are you a better governor now in your 70s than you were in your 30s?

BROWN: Well, I think practice tends to make more perfect and I've had a lot of practice.

SIMON: Let me ask about some of what you have coming up. The state controllers say that the cost of health care for retired state workers has jumped to $72 billion more than the state has to pay for it. So will you increase revenues or cut back on coverage?

BROWN: Well, we are going to ask the employees to start contributing to the funding of their retiree health care, and of course, the state will match that in some way. These are among a number of liabilities, like our pensions, like the pensions at the university and for the judges. We have lots of liabilities because those are the promises we've made, but we are a state that generates, in our private economy, about $2.2 trillion every year. We expect it to grow. And my job is to make the core investments, make sure our services are up to the task, but at the same time to live within our means and balance the public and the private, the state and the local.

SIMON: Can I fairly take that as the answer is you will increase revenues by trying to get state employees to contribute more instead of cutback on coverage? And, as I don't have to tell you, the state employees and their union might not like that.

BROWN: Well, it's always a combination of both. So yes, we can cut back. We can do things more effectively. That applies to retiree health care. We need contributions and we also need changes in the program of benefits.

SIMON: You have proposed a goal for California to reduce the use of gas by 50 percent by 2030 - that's just 15 years. How would you do that?

BROWN: You do it by more efficient vehicles, by millions of electric cars, by reducing the carbon content of cars. We have a low carbon fuel standard and Californians use about 14 billion gallons of gasoline every year - not even counting diesel - and we're electrifying.

A few years ago we had a very limited amount of renewable energy. Now we're over 22 percent. We'll be a third of renewable electricity by 2020; by 2030 we'll be close to 50. And that renewable energy can then charge the batteries. All those things will contribute to a reduced reliance on petroleum.

SIMON: Governor, have you considered some of the implications of reducing gas in California? I mean, we've seen the stock market fall just in the past few weeks with the lower price of gas. Gas taxes are what pay for road maintenance in California. I'll bet there's unemployment that's occurred in California because of the falling revenues. Are you working on one problem, but creating another?

BROWN: Well, that always happens to some degree, but I would say the jobs - the lower gasoline price will create jobs because that money that is not going out of California to pay foreign oil or out-of-state oil producers. Plus the electric cars - California has 30 percent of the electric cars in America. That in itself is jobs. The Tesla auto company's small, but growing. So we're creating jobs. The world doesn't stay static. California is often on the cutting edge. And there will be disruptions and we try to minimize that and compensate those who are losing. But we are in the forefront of change and it's positive and absolutely necessary.

SIMON: Governor Brown, you're a popular governor of the largest state in the country. Why not run for president?

BROWN: Well, I think we've got a candidate running for president. Her name is Hillary Clinton, and from all I can tell she is very strongly supported. So I think that pretty well takes care of that. Also I just got myself elected and I've got a lot on my plate.

SIMON: That doesn't sound like an endorsement for Hillary Clinton so much as a recognition of the obvious.

BROWN: Well, I'm not in the business of making endorsements, you know, three days after my inauguration. I'm just recognizing that both because of the job that Bill did and his unusual and continuing popularity and her own work quite significantly as senator and secretary of state, you know, she's formidable.

SIMON: What's the most valuable thing you've learned in 45 years of public life?

BROWN: You know, to refrain from making that some clever point 'cause it usually comes back to bite you. I've learned words like transformation or revolutionary almost always overstate. I understand a little better the system that we are embedded inside of and how difficult it is to make changes. In my inauguration I refer back to my father and what he said in his first inauguration. Everything we've talked about today was quite alive and contentious back in 1959. We do make progress, but there's a profound degree of continuity that shapes our lives for the good.

SIMON: The Governor of California, Jerry Brown. Thanks very much for being with us.

BROWN: Well, thank you. I enjoyed it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.