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The governor who's castigating the president on climate change

Governor Brown
Governor Brown 13:26

Our country is divided between red states and blue states, a division that has intensified since the election of President Donald Trump. And some of the blue states are intensifying their resistance to the president. Most prominently, California, the country's bluest and most populous state, led by Governor Jerry Brown. Brown has been governor of California twice -- the first time, 40 years ago. He criticizes the president on taxes. California is suing the Trump administration over health care, immigration, and air quality, but nothing raises more righteous passion in Jerry Brown than the issue of climate change. He castigates the president for denying the science and aggravating a problem Governor Brown says is causing California to burn.

This is the most destructive fire season on record in California. Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency this past week as raging wildfires, whipped by fierce Santa Ana winds and fueled by bone-dry brush, laid waste to tens-of-thousands of acres in Southern California. The smoke plume that shrouded the Los Angeles area could be seen from space. The fires that ravaged California's famed wine country in October were the deadliest the state has ever seen. Whole neighborhoods were incinerated. Dozens of people were killed.

Fire rages in California

Governor Jerry Brown: The fire season used to be a few months in the summer, now it's almost year-long. These fires are unprecedented. We've never seen anything like it. Scientists are telling us, "This is the kind of stuff that's gonna happen." And we gotta deal with it.

It's going to happen, he says, based on science that predicts extreme swings in weather patterns. This year, Southern California experienced record heat in October and November, creating the perfect conditions for this.

"I don't think President Trump has a fear of the Lord, the fear of the wrath of God, which leads one to more humility. And this is such a reckless disregard for the truth and for the existential consequences that can be unleashed."

Governor Jerry Brown: Nature is not a political game. Nature is the ground on which we stand, it's the air which we breathe. The truth of the case is that there's too much carbon being emitted, that heat-trapping gases are building up, the planet is warming and all hell is breaking loose.

Bill Whitaker: President Trump has famously called climate change -- a hoax. When he pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord he said this wasn't a good deal for the United States. 

Governor Jerry Brown: That's a preposterous idea not even a shred of truth in that statement. So I'd say to Mr. Trump, take a deeper look now is not the time to undo what every country in the world is committed to.

Bill Whitaker: Are you fearful?

Governor Jerry Brown: Oh yeah, you should, anyone who isn't is not looking at the facts. I don't think President Trump has a fear of the Lord, the fear of the wrath of God, which leads one to more humility. And this is such a reckless disregard for the truth and for the existential consequences that can be unleashed.

If he sounds like a Jesuit seminarian, it's because he was one, years ago. Now, he's a climate missionary, traveling the world, preaching the gospel of renewable energy -- at the Vatican; in China, where President Xi Jinping discussed collaborating with California on cutting greenhouse gases. Brown went to the global climate summit in Bonn, Germany last month. He and former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg led a delegation of mayors and legislators representing 40% of the U.S. economy. While the official U.S. delegation, sent by the White House, showed up to promote coal; Brown went to tell the world President Trump doesn't speak for all Americans.

Governor Jerry Brown: California is not waiting for Trump. We're not waiting for all the deniers. 

He's already weaning California off fossil fuels. To give us a glimpse of the future, Brown took us to a 62-acre solar farm near Sacramento on the site of a decommissioned nuclear power plant.

Solar power plant in California CBS News

Bill Whitaker: You wanna have 50% of California's electricity generated by renewable sources by--

Governor Jerry Brown: By 2030.

Bill Whitaker: --2030. And you--

Governor Jerry Brown: And I think--

Bill Whitaker: --think you're gonna beat that?

Governor Jerry Brown: Yes, no question about it.

With the federal government standing down on climate action, California is blazing its own trail.    

Bill Whitaker: What can you, the governor of one state in the United States, do to fill in the void?

Governor Jerry Brown: As governor of California we have a cap and trade system which is a very efficient way to reducing greenhouse gases. We have zero-emission vehicle mandate. We have efficiency standards for our buildings, for our appliances. So California is showing that dealing with climate is good for the economy, not bad.

"The Republicans have this cult. Just like they believe there's no climate problem, they believe that cutting corporate taxes without any money to pay for it, they think it's magic, it'll make everything wonderful. Very irresponsible. Very dangerous."

California is booming. Under Brown, it has grown from the 9th largest economy in the world to the 6th. It's now bigger than France with a budget surplus of more than $7 billion. 

Bill Whitaker: When you first came into office this time. California faced more than $50 billion in debt and deficits. There were headlines that California was going to be the first "failed state." 

Governor Jerry Brown: The fact is we cut the budget, we raised taxes and the economy roared back. 

Bill Whitaker: You cut the budget. You raised taxes. These days that sounds like a prescription for political suicide?

Governor Jerry Brown: You gotta pay some taxes. You have to invest. We need to invest in the technology of tomorrow or somebody else will. And that somebody is China, India and other countries. You're not gonna poor mouth yourself to the future and roads cost money, that's called taxes. R&D cost money, colleges cost money -- schools, childcare, all of that. We're a rich country and we can handle it. 

But California's economic success has come at a cost. Housing prices are through the roof. So are the ranks of the homeless. A quarter of the country's homeless live in California. 

Governor Jerry Brown: This is not paradise. We have a lot of problems. But California is the engine of America, and I like to remind my fellow citizens when you kinda look askance at this state, you're looking at one of the, not the only one, but a major contributor to the well-being of the whole country. 

California is vital to the national economy. That's why Brown is so angered by the new tax overhaul legislation being pushed by House and Senate Republicans. They call it a tax cut, but Brown says by eliminating deductions for state and local taxes it would actually increase the tax burden on high tax blue states like California. He and other blue state governors say the bill is retaliation against Trump's opponents. Brown called it evil and divisive. 

Bill Whitaker: Do you think the Republicans are intentionally trying to punish the blue states that didn't vote for President Trump?  

Governor Jerry Brown: I know this. The Republicans have this cult. Just like they believe there's no climate problem, they believe that cutting corporate taxes without any money to pay for it, they think it's magic, it'll make everything wonderful. Very irresponsible. Very dangerous.

California Governor Jerry Brown and correspondent Bill Whitaker CBS News

But California Republicans say Brown's tax hikes are irresponsible. In Trump's America, Jerry Brown's California seems far out on the frontier. California doesn't look like the rest of the country: Minorities now are the majority of the population. It doesn't act like the rest of the country: The state voted to legalize recreational marijuana starting in January; will soon offer a third gender choice on drivers' licenses. Hillary Clinton trounced President Trump here by more than 4 million votes.

Bill Whitaker: It seems that California is way out of step with the rest of the country.

Governor Jerry Brown: I'd say we're more in tune with the future than many parts of the rest of the country. 

Bill Whitaker: You think the country is going to look more like California in the future?

Governor Jerry Brown: I think it will. I was asking myself, "Why did Democrats in Ohio and Wisconsin and Michigan, Pennsylvania, why'd they vote for Trump?" Not a lot of 'em did, but enough to give him those states' electoral votes. 

Bill Whitaker: And your answer?

Governor Jerry Brown: There's more confidence here; there's less fear. People are looking to the future. They're not scared, they're not going inward, they're not scapegoating, they're not blaming Mexican immigrants. They're not blaming the stranger. Just the opposite. It's is a place that's alive. It's dynamic. It's a culture that's on the move, not pulling up the drawbridge out of fear and and economic insecurity. 

1976: The first time 60 Minutes met Gov. Jerry Brown 04:27

Jerry Brown is California's 39th and oldest governor. When he first held the office in 1975 he had a full head of hair. His father, Pat Brown had been governor eight years before.  When you look at all the staid portraits of his predecessors in the capitol rotunda, it's obvious Jerry Brown is not like the others. Not many politicians spent four years in the seminary as Brown did in the 1950s. Or dated a rock star. He went out with Linda Rondstadt in the 70s.   

Governor Jerry Brown: I've seen a lotta different things. I've worked with Mother Theresa. I've spent six months doing Zen meditation in Kamakura, Japan and I've run for President three times. I've done very incompatible things.

Bill Whitaker: People who like you will say that that's evidence of intellectual flexibility. People who don't like you say that that's evidence of your being flighty.

Governor Jerry Brown: Well, I'm not gonna -- that's that psycho babble.

Whatever you call it, his far-out politics his first time in office earned him the moniker Governor Moonbeam. We found him to be down to earth. He's California casual at the office. His dog Colusa has the run of the place.

Bill Whitaker: Are you better at being governor this time?

Governor Jerry Brown: Yeah, it's a different experience. 79 is not 36. Different ball game in every way. So I would say I know more, I understand more. 

Bill Whitaker: What have you learned about yourself in those intervening years?

California Governor Jerry Brown and correspondent Bill Whitaker CBS News

Governor Jerry Brown: There's something you lose with age, your physical prowess -- but mental acuity and -- just life experience is very important. So, I enjoy the job a lot more.

It's hard to see why. His liberal policies make him a punching bag for conservatives and he's not universally loved by liberals. He's a political maverick. He's rolling back state union pensions. He refuses to curb oil production until there's a viable alternative. A majority of Californians like what he's doing. But he's been doing this for almost 50 years and he says it's time to hang up his political spurs. When he leaves office in January 2019, he swears he's going to leave elective politics behind. 

Bill Whitaker: I think you're gonna miss this. 

Governor Jerry Brown: No I won't.  

Bill Whitaker: You don't think so?

Governor Jerry Brown: Next year I'll be 80, okay? And what do I want to do with my life? That's my question.

Bill Whitaker: What do you want to do?

Governor Jerry Brown: Well, I want to spend time with my wife.

A go it alone bachelor nearly all of his adult life, Jerry Brown now has a partner to share his life -- Anne Gust Brown, a former executive at The Gap. They married in 2005.  Their plan is to retire to a ranch, in a golden valley north of Sacramento. They're building their dream ranch house - with solar panels, of course. It's off the grid and way off the beaten path. 

The governor and Colusa, showed us around.  

Bill Whitaker: This is beautiful governor. This is pretty steep.

Governor Jerry Brown: Oh you haven't seen nothing yet.  

He told us he's going out at his peak, stepping away from the fray on land his great-grandfather settled in the 1860s. He said he intends to be a modest rancher. He's going to unplug and unwind.  

Bill Whitaker: Do ya think this man sitting next to you is going to be content puttering around the ranch?

Governor Jerry Brown: I wouldn't call it "puttering." I don't "putter."

Anne Gust Brown: He sure doesn't putter. No--

Bill Whitaker: Running- - as he said, running a modest ranch.

Anne Gust Brown: We both wonder about it. 'Cause we've been running a hundred miles an hour and now we're gonna be in a place that's almost the opposite of that and we'll see.

Governor Jerry Brown: Yeah we're on the frontier, as it were.

Bill Whitaker: And you're going to like that?

Governor Jerry Brown: Well I like being on the frontier. That's for sure.

Produced by Marc Lieberman and Ali Rawaf. Associate Producer, LaCrai Mitchell.

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