By David Siders
LAS VEGAS - California Gov. Jerry Brown, who said little about job creation for the first seven months of his term, suddenly can't get it off his mind.
In the last two weeks alone, Brown appointed a jobs adviser and touted the state budget's passage as a measure to improve investor confidence in California.
He proposed changes to the corporate tax structure that he said would create jobs, and when he left the state on Tuesday for the first time since taking office, it was to promote California's green energy economy.
"There's a lot of stuff we can do, and it takes investment," Brown said at a clean energy summit in Las Vegas. "And the same kind of curve of rising investment and profit and jobs is in the energy field as was in the microchip field many decades ago."
The rhetoric represents a change in course for the Democratic governor, who focused almost exclusively on the state budget deficit the first half of the year. Brown's turn to jobs follows criticism he neglected the subject as unemployment reached 12 percent and other politicians, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, announced jobs proposals of their own.
"For the most part, really the only thing they've hard from the governor is about managing the budget, which is important," said Adam Mendelsohn, a political adviser to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "But it's equally important to have a proactive agenda on the table. I think the public wants to know that government is on the case."
In a clean energy jobs plan proposed during last year's campaign, Brown said he could fast-track permits for solar projects, install solar panels along state highways and otherwise promote the creation of 20,000 new megawatts of renewable energy by 2020. He said the initiative could create about 500,000 jobs, and on the day this month that he appointed his jobs adviser, Michael Rossi, he said the state is "well on our way" to achieving that goal.
"Even the brightest people in the world have a hard time figuring this out, and there's a certain amount which is just the global economy doing its thing," Brown said Tuesday. "So, the governor has a function, and I'm exercising that function, I think, in a very creative, positive way."
Many of Brown's steps are incremental. Intervening in local land-use decisions to defeat opposition to renewable energy projects, he facilitated a settlement between environmentalists and the developers of two solar power projects in San Luis Obispo County.
In the Mojave Desert, where environmentalists worried about desert tortoise habitat filed litigation to block a solar project, Brown filed a legal brief asking a judge to let it go forward.
"We're going to take care of the tortoise," Brown said in a crowd-pleasing moment recently in Fresno. "We're going to give it a lot of shade."
The long-term effect of his energy push is uncertain. The state most recently estimated that only about 3.4 percent of total employment is in the production of green goods and services, with about 433,000 people working at least part time. Nor has the industry been without setbacks.
Near the Arizona border, the massive Blythe Solar Power Project has been delayed since Brown visited to celebrate a groundbreaking in June. Full-scale construction, once expected to begin this fall, is now expected to start a year later due to a decision to use different technology, a company official said.