California Exceptionalism, Jerry Brown-style (or, how to own your inner "Governor Moonbeam").

California Governor Jerry Brown probably doesn’t like his awfully sticky and most quoted nickname—“Governor Moonbeam.” It probably contributed to the derailment of his presidential ambitions, and it will without doubt end up in every obituary and history book, attached to his name.

Still, even at age 75, and running the state of California for the second time in 40 years, Edmund Gerald Brown, Jr. aka “Jerry” Brown, aka “Governor Moonbeam” is demonstrating the core values, leadership traits, and guts that earned him that sobriquet.

Jerry Brown got his nickname when he was the California governor between 1975 and 1983. He had succeeded Ronald Reagan as California’s Governor (who had followed Jerry’s father Governor Pat Brown into the office) and set about a campaign to push the state into a leading role in driving economic stimulus, and social and environmental leadership. The first-term Governor was a young buck, with idealistic, progressive and nontraditional views on how the state (and ultimately the country) should be run. He rebuffed the wastefulness of living in the Governor’s mansion and would often walk to work from his apartment. While both behaviors were due to Brown’s inclination towards fiscal conservancy, they were touted in the press as “hippy-like” moves which contributed to his “moonbeam” persona.

It was a Chicago journalist named Mike Royko, who wrote that Brown appeared to be attracting “the moonbeam vote,” and called the state “the world’s largest outdoor mental asylum.”

“If it babbles and its eyeballs are glazed,” he noted in April 1979, “it probably comes from California.”

Royko died in 1997, and we can only wonder what he might think of Brown’s most recent run at the state—one that even at the Governor’s ripe old age of 75 could still be seen as young, idealistic, nontraditional, and progressive.

During Brown’s first term as Governor, he appointed the state’s first gay judges. He opposed the state’s death penalty, and created the first-ever tax incentives for rooftop solar energy. He boosted funding for the California Arts Council by 1,300 percent. He also declared his fascination with outer space, and proposed that California launch its own space satellite, and managed time to date the rock star Linda Ronstadt.

But it is Brown’s second turn at Governor that perhaps is having an even greater impact on California, and setting national themes. After all, California is the country’s most populous state, with nearly 40 million residents, and role as the 9th largest economy in the world (if it were a sovereign country) give its decisions some clout. There is much truth to the Californication of the nation—when California leads, the rest of the nation follows.

Here are a few of the things Governor Moonbeam has been able to accomplish in his latest term in office—and to help earn that nickname, and to lead the state, and the rest of the nation.

Hiking the Minimum Wage

Amid a national debate over whether it's fair to pay fast-food workers, retail clerks and others wages so low that they often have to work second or third jobs, Governor Brown acted while others debated, and signed into law a gradual raise of the current minimum of $8 an hour to $9 on July 1, 2014, then to $10 on Jan. 1, 2016.

Changing the Course of Same-Sex Marriage

When the governor decided he wouldn't defend California's ban same-sex marriage in court, his decision became a key factor in the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on Proposition 8. Without “standing” (which Brown relinquished) he essentially voided the measure. Surprisingly, he gets little credit for his involvement in this matter, but should be acknowledged for a move that changed the velocity of history as it relates to gay rights.


Brown signed legislation this past week that allows California farmers to be prepared to grow industrial hemp upon federal approval. Senate Bill 566, would permit California growers to cultivate industrial hemp for the sale of seed, oil and fiber to manufacturers and businesses that currently rely on international imports for raw hemp products. He’s setting up fiscal structures for the inevitable shift to legalization of marijuana use.

Promoting the use of electric cars and low-emission vehicles

This past week, the governor signed 6 pieces of legislation promoting the use of low- and zero-emission vehicles, and a four-year extension of carpool lane access for electric, hydrogen fuel cell and compressed natural-gas vehicles. "Today, we reaffirm our commitment in California to an electric vehicle future," Brown said in a statement upon signing the bills.

Turning a Budget Deficit into a Budget Surplus

Progressive Democrats are not necessarily known as fiscal conservatives, but Brown has, throughout his political life balanced the oxymoron of a progressive conservative.

When he took office, the state of California was in heavy debt—something topping a reported $26-40 billion. Some pundits predicted statewide bankruptcy, and all sorts of financial disaster. Governor Moonbeam took a different approach—he raised taxes and lowered expenses, and balanced the budget within a few years. The state now expects $98.5 billion in revenues and transfers and plans spending $97.7 billion i.e. a surplus of $851 million for the year, in addition to a projected $785 million surplus for the current fiscal year, which ends in June, allowing the state to put $1 billion toward a rainy day fund.


If being a fiscal, social and environmental advocate—and a leader who gets things done defines Governor Brown as “Governor Moonbeam,” I say viva la moonbeam! Or if Mike Royko was right, and “If it babbles and its eyeballs are glazed, it probably comes from California,” then I say all hail to Californians.

Or as HBO's Bill Maher puts it:


Flag of California courtesy of Shutterstock


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