Carla Marinucci
Updated 11:03 pm, Tuesday, January 22, 2013

In an age of caustic partisan division, Gov. Jerry Brown sits in the political catbird seat as he prepares to lay out the agenda for the rest of his term in a State of the State address to Californians on Thursday in Sacramento.

The 74-year-old Democrat, whom conservatives once derided as “Gov. Moonbeam,” is often lavished these days with praise from California Republicans. They say Brown is the reigning “adult in the room” at the Capitol, where Democrats control both houses of the Legislature.

Brown is being lauded by many Republicans as their last best hope to keep the Democratic supermajorities in the Assembly and state Senate in line, thanks to a unique combination of his trademark love of bon mots spoken in Latin, a famously cheapskate approach to finances, and political skills and resume unrivaled in the state capital.

“Are you sitting down? Because the only thing standing between a wild and crazy Legislature and you is Jerry Brown and his wild and crazy veto pen,” Republican strategist Joel Fox told an audience of GOP insiders in Los Angeles recently. “He is like the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae stopping the hordes coming through the pass.”

GOP strategist Kevin Spillane marvels that “Jerry Brown was triangulating when Bill Clinton was still in diapers. He knows how to play the right, left and the middle.”

Wise older statesman

As he begins the second half of his third term in the job – decades after his first two, from 1975-83 – Brown is “trying to go for the older, wiser statesman,” Spillane says. “Given how ideological and extreme most legislators are on the Democratic side, he looks moderate in comparison.”

Bill Whalen, a research fellow with the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University and hardly a past admirer of Brown’s politics, said that approach is one reason Republicans simply cannot muster much outrage these days over Brown’s leadership.

“Yes, he did pass a tax increase,” Whalen said, referring to Proposition 30, approved by voters in November, “but he hasn’t exactly been a liberal governor of excess

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