​Gov. Jerry Brown: Pulling California back from the brink

The New Year has brought change and new faces to much of our political landscape, not least on Capitol Hill, where Republicans took control of the Senate this past week. From out of the west, though, a different sight -- a familiar face on the Democratic side taking the oath of office yet again . . . many years after his political debut. John Blackstone reports our Cover Story.

Six years ago, the sun appeared to be setting on the California Dream. Plummeting home prices and soaring debt were robbing the Golden State of its luster.

As we reported on "Sunday Morning" back then, plenty of Californians were ready to give up hope:

"Is the California dream kind of dying?" Blackstone asked.

"It's not dying -- it's dead," said Harvey Schwartz of 20th Century Props (which closed its doors for good in 2009).

It was a crisis, to be sure. But in politics, "crisis" is just another word for "opportunity."

"The state was in massive debt, $27 billion," said Gov. Jerry Brown. "There was great uncertainty. Over a million people had lost their jobs. Well, that was then. Now, California's coming back."

"Is that your doing?" Blackstone asked.

"It's in part my doing, certainly," said Brown.

Gov. Jerry Brown with correspondent John Blackstone. CBS News

It's hard to imagine who would have wanted to become governor of a state that was in such a sorry state, but in 2010 Jerry Brown certainly did. And last November, voters rewarded him for leading California back from the brink, electing him to an unprecedented fourth term as governor.

The state once again boasts the world's eighth-largest economy -- bigger than Russia's -- and it even posted a budget surplus last year.

The governor regularly receives foreign dignitaries, befitting California's status as a high-tech superpower.

The secret to Brown's success? Raising taxes while cutting spending -- policies that have angered his fellow Democrats nearly as much as Republicans.

"You had to push Democrats in California to accept a lot of the cuts that you proposed," Blackstone said.

"I still have to push Democrats, and Republicans," he replied. "There's endless desires. The way I say it is, first, you have a desire, and then you make it a need, then you make it a right, and pretty soon you got a law. Then as soon as you got a law, you got a lawsuit.

"You've got to be able to say, 'No.' Because this government is not something you just milk forever."

"I don't like to spend money. But that's not because I'm conservative -- it's just because I'm cheap!" - Jerry Brown, in a 1976 speech

For decades Jerry Brown has always charted a unique course in politics. His father, Pat Brown, was elected governor of California in 1958. Edmund Brown Jr. was hardly the heir apparent: at the time, he was studying to become a Jesuit priest.

But politics proved to be his true calling, and in 1974, Jerry Brown won his father's old job.

"It is a unique experience at the age of 36 to find myself elected governor of the largest state in the union," he said at a 1975 press conference.

He encountered a political landscape that's all-too-familiar today...

"An election is not an end, rather it's a beginning," Brown said then. "It's fair to say people want a new spirit, but they don't want to pay a lot of money for it!"

Famously frugal, Brown dispensed with the limos and private planes of his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, favoring blue Plymouth sedans.

He was a creature of the 1970s, and the bachelor governor made waves for dating singer Linda Ronstadt.