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Jerry Brown's Legacy: Climate, California Budget And More

January 3, 2019 1:33 p.m.


Scott Shafer, senior editor politics and government dest, KQED

Governor Jerry Brown

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

The day is Thursday January 3rd. We begin today with a farewell. California Governor Jerry Brown only has a few days left in office before Gavin Newsom is inaugurated on Monday. The 42nd governor was once the youngest elected to lead the state in the 20th century and is now the oldest. Brown sat down recently with KQED senior politics and government desk editor Scott Shafer to talk about his legacy. Here's that interview.

You came into office and it was a mess. Right. So there were questions about whether California was even governable there was a 26 billion dollar deficit a big recession and there's an expression never let a good crisis go to waste. And I'm wondering do you feel like you used that crisis to do things that you might not have otherwise been able to do. Well we got things so without that fiscal crisis we probably wouldn't have had the rainy day fund and the cuts that we made.

And we might not have had the tax increase Proposition 30 31. So those are all things that responded to a clear problem that presented real threats. But that's where government is its challenge. In response you get a challenge to respond. And there was no challenge with obviously having nothing to do with that was a particularly difficult period. Millions of people lost their homes millions millions people lost their jobs. That was a very unusual period and it did provide stimulus for a lot of things we did later.

To what extent were there things that you did because you felt you had to but you didn't necessarily want to. And one thing that I'm thinking of is getting rid of the redevelopment agencies and maybe wanted to do that I don't know.

But were there things that you would have liked not to do in terms of big redevelopment saving money from the schools and the schools needs money. Many people think they still need money teachers not only paid in any sense redevelopment. There were plenty of abuses. A lot of people want to see it go and it did free up almost two billion dollars a year for schools. And if you want to bring it back they're going to take billions from the schools. I would assume those people care about California public schools will fight that very hard.

Now you have made among other things criminal justice reform really one of the hallmarks of your eight years in office. And part of that was due to the federal courts saying you've got to reduce the prison population. But there was you went well beyond I think what needed to be done to do that to accomplish that. And I'm wondering like why was that such a signature important issue for you. Oh well first of all because it's so damn many people locked up.

A couple of years before I became governor there were over 170000 principally men principally low income men of color and not all that well educated for the most part all locked up in cages. So we were called the gulag. Western style. Now go back a few decades and there were. Twenty twenty five thousand twenty eight thousand locked up we had 12 prisons. Now all of a sudden when a prison building binge which I'm sure the legislature didn't really think through and we go to 35 prisons. So every year the number of felonies is not much different from the 70s.

So why would you more than double your prisons and more than quadruple the number of inmates. So that tells me we need to reform. Yes there are very dangerous people whore horrible things have been done. But human beings are capable of transformation are capable of change and we want to make that change more likely by having the right kind of environment in prisons and jails in alternative programs and having sentencing policy that makes sense.

Another big issue of course for you is the environment and climate change. Do you feel like you accomplished everything you wanted to do as governor on that issue or were there things undone.

California has taken more intelligent action on climate change than any state or province in the Western Hemisphere and more than almost all jurisdictions in the whole world. So we've done a lot. Is that enough to stop climate change. No the world has to do much more much quicker and so does California. But that stepping up requires public support. And as we see with McCrone riots in the streets because of a carbon tax we see in Washington a carbon tax was handily defeated. So no I'm not satisfied at all. We're on the road to disaster.

We're going to get more drought more fires more destruction and we better start controlling it.

You heard California's youngest governor and you're California's oldest governor. I think there were about what 30 something years or so 30 or so years in between.

Well just by point of accuracy we did have some younger governors in the 19th century but in the 20th century I'm the oldest BYF oldest of all time.

Yeah. And so you had a lot of experiences in your life in between those two. Yes. You know and I I'll go through them all but you were there were some public offices you held the Buddhist thing the Zen monastery. Like how do you think all those things in between the two times you were governor made you different as governor. Well they are different.

You know as you age you get new things look different you can look back on your life and you learn things hopefully I've learned to work very closely with the legislature. But again it's easy to work with him when I'm older than most of them. And I have more experience the first time around. I was younger and I had less experience and a lot of what they were doing was all new to me whereas now most of what we're doing. Is familiar to me and new to them. So that's allowed a more balanced relationship.

Which I don't think I've taken advantage of. But I've fully embraced to make a co-operative partnership.

So January 7th you and your wife Ann are going to leave. You're going to go to Calusa Yardie which is a much quieter existence than you've been used to. What are you going to miss do you think if anything.

I'm not sure when I left the last time I didn't miss too much. I mean when I left I don't think I look back. What was Deukmejian doing. He was the governor after me. What was the legislature doing. You go about your life on January 24th I'll be in Washington to unveil the clock that is put out by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and they will tell us how close to midnight are we on the Doomsday Clock which means how close are we to the end of the world. Now that's important.

That's important work to try to wake people up and I hope to meet with members of the Senate and House and get a greater awareness that we've got to deal with the nuclear threat and then I'm also going to be working on on climate issues. And then probably prison reform and sentencing. So just those three things alone not to mention my olive trees and making sure that the emitters aren't plugged up or eaten by squirrels. I've got a lot to do.

All right Governor Brown thank you so much and we hope you have a long retirement long next chapter. I guess I'll be a better way to say it. Good.

Well yeah I don't think of a time when I think of taking off in any direction. And that was California Governor Jerry Brown speaking to KQED Senior Editor Scott Shafer.