By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown, a popular Democrat who has steered the state on a centrist path, said on Thursday he would seek re-election to another term as leader of the most populous U.S. state, in a widely anticipated move.
Brown, 75, made the announcement by tweeting a picture of himself filling out his candidacy papers, along with a statement saying he was looking forward to another four years as governor.
"At this stage of my life, I can say - without any hesitation - that I am prepared and excited to tackle these challenges and the many others that lay before us," Brown said in the statement.
"In fact, there is nothing I would rather do. So today, I have taken out the papers to run for re-election," he said.
Brown enters the race with high approval ratings and a $17 million war chest that dwarfs those of his nearest opponents, Republicans Tim Donnelly and Neel Kashkari.
He has forcefully steered the heavily Democratic state on a centrist path since voters returned him to the governorship as the state's top executive in 2011, vetoing some laws proposed by liberal members of his own party and keeping a tight hold on California's finances.
Brown is the state's longest-serving governor, and another term would be his fourth at California's helm. He first served two terms as governor from 1975 to 1983, and was elected again in 2010 after a decades-long hiatus.
In his statement, Brown cited the state's recovering economy and improvements to its beleaguered prison and school systems as evidence of progress made during his third term.
"For our schools, where once there were thousands of layoffs and widespread elimination of arts and science programs, there is now local control, new hiring and restoration of programs - $10 billion in additional funds this year alone," Brown said.
He also touted new state laws that moved the state forward on its own version of immigration reform after that issue stalled at the federal level in the U.S. Congress.
A Field Poll released in December showed that Brown was enjoying strong popularity in the state, with 58 percent of registered voters approving of the job he was doing.
Kashkari, who worked on the federal response to the mortgage meltdown in the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, criticized Brown, saying his policies were slowing the economy and sapping the state of jobs.
"In announcing his plan to run for a record fourth term, Gov. Brown again touted a status quo that is devastating for millions of families and communities all across the state," Kashkari, who entered the race last month, said in a campaign email.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, James Dalgleish and Jonathan Oatis)