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Brown delivers defiant State of the State address defending immigrants, climate change

California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during a news conference on January 17, 2014 in San Francisco, California.  Gov. Brown declared a drought state of emergency for  California as the state faces water shortfalls in what is expected to be the driest year in state history. Residents are being asked to voluntarily reduce water usage by 20 percent.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
In his State of the State address on Tuesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown delivered a clear message to the Trump administration that the state would defend its programs protecting undocumented immigrants, healthcare and the environment. (File photo)

Video | Fact-check analysis

California Gov. Jerry Brown delivered a clear message to the Trump administration in his State of the State address Tuesday, saying the state would defend its programs and policies aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants, healthcare and the environment.

"We will defend everybody – every man, woman and child – who has come here for a better life and has contributed to the well-being of our state," the governor said in speaking before both houses of the legislature.

Brown said immigrants are an integral part of California and helped build its prosperity and dynamism. But he acknowledged that it is not known what changes may be ahead on immigration. "We must prepare for uncertain times and reaffirm the basic principles that have made California the Great Exception that it is," he said.

Brown raised the possibility that the federal government, now led by newly inaugurated President Donald Trump, may reduce its support for healthcare coverage. He said under the Affordable Care Act, more than 5 million people have received benefits. But he said tens of billions of federal dollars allow that coverage.

He pledged to work with other governors and lawmakers to defend that coverage.

As expected, Brown said California will continue to push ahead on climate change initiatives.

"We cannot fall back and give in to the climate deniers. The science is clear. The danger is real," he said.

The governor also took the opportunity to recount his accomplishments, from raising the minimum wage to building a rainy day fund as a hedge against future recessions — all part of the legacy he can cement in this his final term. 

Despite the governor's sometimes combative words, Republican Senate Minority Leader Jean Fuller said she hopes the governor's speech "opens the door to a more positive tone toward partnering with Washington," noting the federal government's significant impact in such areas as the state budget.

"Working with Washington should emulate the bipartisan successes we have had in our state," she said. She pointed specifically to the work needed with Washington on health care and infrastructure issues.

Prior to Brown's address, the governor swore in Xavier Becerra, the former congressman who was confirmed Monday as the next state attorney general. Becerra is expected to play a key role in defending any California programs that could be threatened by actions taken by the new president or the Republican-led Congress.

Here are some of the major topics Brown reviewed in his speech:


Immigration was one of the central themes of Brown’s address from the start, when he pointed out that 27 percent of Californians “were born in a foreign land.” 

Brown talked about his own family’s immigrant history and the journey of his German-born great-grandfather who “arrived in 1852, having left from the port of Hamburg aboard a ship named Perseverance.”

As other California lawmakers have, Brown asserted that California would take a stand against threatened Trump immigration policies. The new president promised during his campaign that he would crack down on unauthorized immigrants, and possibly restrict refugee entries and work visas.

Brown, however, credited immigrants with helping create the state’s prosperity. 

“In California, immigrants are an integral part of who we are and what we have become, Brown said.

While he acknowledged that federal law determines immigration policy, “as a state we have and can play an important role,” he said.

Brown pointed to several state laws that are immigrant-friendly, including the law he signed in 2013 allowing unauthorized immigrants to apply for California driver’s licenses, and the Trust Act, which prohibits local law enforcement from holding immigrants in custody for deportation at the behest of federal immigrant agents if they are otherwise eligible for release.

“We may be called upon to defend those laws, and defend them we will,” Brown said. “We will defend everybody, every man, woman and child who has come here for a better life and has contributed to the well-being of our state.”

Health care

Brown promised to join with other governors to protect state residents’ access to health care in the face of the Trump administration’s push to repeal Obamacare.

“More than any other state, California embraced the Affordable Care Act,” he said. The state has extended Medi-Cal coverage to about 3.5 million low-income Californians and built a health insurance exchange, Covered California, which has helped about 1.4 million people sign up for coverage. Brown noted that huge expansion of coverage cost tens of billions of dollars and was largely subsidized by the federal government.

“Were any of that to be taken away, our state budget would be directly affected, possibly devastated,” he said.

Key players in the new administration and Congress have called for changing Medicaid – Medi-Cal in California – into a block grant program. Many health policy analysts say that could lead to cuts in federal funding and reductions in care.

Climate Change

The governor also issued a strong defense of California’s efforts to fight climate change and reduce pollution that is accumulating in the atmosphere and causing average temperature to rise.

“Whatever they do in Washington, they can’t change the facts. And these are the facts: the climate is changing, the temperatures are rising and so are the oceans. Natural habitats everywhere are under increasing stress. The world knows this,” Brown said.

Last year, Brown signed legislation requiring California to lower greenhouse gas emission 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. One key component for reaching that goal – California’s landmark program for buying and trading permits to emit carbon --  is the subject of a lawsuit by the California Chamber of Commerce.

The so-called “cap and trade” program, established under earlier legislation in 2006, requires the number of pollution permits to be gradually lowered, which in turn would gradually lower emissions statewide. But the bill passed the legislature with less than a two-thirds majority.

In its lawsuit, which was heard by a state appellate court Tuesday, the chamber argues that cap and trade is in essence a tax and is therefore unlawful because it didn’t pass with the super majority required to levy taxes.

Brown has called on Democrats in the legislature, who won a two-thirds majority in November, to reauthorize the program with enough votes to shield it from the legal challenge the chamber has mounted.

President Trump has been skeptical of the conclusion reached by the vast majority of climate scientists around the world that human-generated carbon pollution is largely responsible for rising global temperatures. In one of his first statements since becoming president, Trump vowed to cancel the federal Climate Action Plan implemented during the Obama administration.

In his speech, the governor said California would continue to work with other states and countries to advance its climate goals in the face of federal retrenchment.

“We can do much on our own and we can join with others – other states and provinces and even countries, to stop the dangerous rise in climate pollution.  And we will,” Brown said.


Brown changed his tone from defiance to cooperation with the Trump administration on a separate topic: overhauling the nation’s aging infrastructure.

“Now here’s the topic where the president has stated his firm intention to build, and build big,” Brown said.

Trump has pledged to raise $1 trillion to construct roads, bridges, airports, tunnels and railways.

To that, Brown said California needs all of those: “Amen, to that, brother, we’re with you!”

During his tenure, Brown has lobbied the legislature to close the state’s $77 billion backlog in road and other infrastructure repairs.

The biggest needs on the state’s to-do list are the $57 billion worth of transportation projects and $13.1 billion in water projects. The state is also billions behind on projects to update courts and University of California buildings.

Brown also wants to spend billions connecting Southern California to the Bay Area with a high-speed rail system and replumbing the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta with twin underground water tunnels.

You can watch the full address below, followed by fact-check analysis by journalists from public media stations that are part of our California Counts collaboration:


This story has been updated.