Politics

California Gov. Brown says he could seek a 5th term — How much is that actually a joke?

File: California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during a ceremony unveiling former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's official gubernatorial portrait in the Rotunda of the State Capitol on Sept. 8, 2014 in Sacramento.
File: California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during a ceremony unveiling former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's official gubernatorial portrait in the Rotunda of the State Capitol on Sept. 8, 2014 in Sacramento.
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California Gov. Jerry Brown joked in Thursday's State of the State address that he could stick around a little longer, past his term limits — if he funded a ballot initiative to make that, well, legal.

Brown faces term limits that keep him from running again, putting him out of office following the 2018 election. During his 20-minute State of the State address, though, he threw out this line:

"Three more years to go. That is, unless I take my surplus campaign funds and put a ballot initiative on the November ballot to allow fourth-term governors to see a final fifth term."

Listen to it in context here:

The idea was met with loud laughs and cheers, though he made sure to follow up with "That's a light note," to more laughs.

While Brown framed the comment as a joke, there's a serious side too, Hoover Institute Research Fellow Bill Whalen told KPCC.

"If the governor wanted to do it, he could do it," Whalen said.

The reason: Brown's sitting on a war chest of $24 million in unspent campaign funds that he could use to back an initiative of his choosing, or to help derail a measure that he doesn’t support — like legalizing recreational marijuana.

"The guessing game in Sacramento is where will he put that money into play," Whalen said.

A fifth term is likely nothing more than a fantasy, but as the governor prepares for the next stage in his life, Whalen says he’s still got a ton of power to wield. Think of him as California’s rich uncle.

You can read Gov. Brown's full State of the State speech here.

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