SACRAMENTO - It was a political speech like no other, delivered by perhaps the one politician who could pull it off.
California's 74-year-old third-term governor filled his State of the State address Thursday with rhetorical flourishes, poetic allusions, biblical stories, historical references - a tapestry of ideas woven into a political document meant to set the tone for the Capitol in 2013.
"It was Jerry Brown in his essence in that he offered perspective, a vantage point you don't see from very many governors, if any," said Bill Whalen, who wrote speeches for former Gov. Pete Wilson. "I dare say it might be the most quirky speech ever delivered."
As far as policy points, the governor said little he hasn't said before. He simply spoke the language of Jerry Brown to underscore his priorities of fiscal restraint, education and regulatory reform, and building a bullet train and water system for the future.
Brown tied the biblical story of the Pharaoh's dream of preparing for seven years of famine to California's new seven-year temporary tax. He lifted lines from 16th century philosophers and an Irish poet to talk about the importance of education. And he linked the founding of California's missions, discovery of gold and the creation of Google to California's "special destiny" that "never ends.
Brown could pull off such a speech because he's at the highest point of his 2-year-old administration: He won a stunning victory in November when voters approved his Proposition 30, the tax-hike measure that will bring in $6 billion a year, and rewarded him with a two-thirds Democratic majority in the Senate and Assembly. And, with an economy slowly recovering, Brown last week proposed a $97.7 billion deficit- free budget, freeing legislators from making more devastating cuts.
In saluting lawmakers, voters, unions, business leaders and "the whole school community" for backing his campaign for Proposition 30, Brown tapped Oliver Wendell Holmes, the great U.S. Supreme Court justice, for a sentiment on how voters came together: "Feeling begets feeling, and great feeling begets great feeling."
Halfway through his third term and making his 11th State of the State address, Brown spent weeks reading and researching in preparation for his speech, wrote the bulk of it over the weekend, and was fine-tuning it as late as Thursday morning, aides said. Brown received lengthy standing ovations before and after his speech from legislators and guests who crowded the Assembly chambers.
"We have wrought in just two years a solid and enduring budget," Brown said. "And, by God, we will persevere and keep it that way for years to come. Against those who take pleasure singing our demise, California did the impossible."
The speech was met with high praise from his supporters and faint praise from the Republican opposition.
State Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, said he's ecstatic that the state no longer has a deficit and it's in a much better environment that they were in three or four years ago, thanks to tough choices by the the governor and state legislators.
"The fact we're going to streamline regulations and do CEQA reform will allow the private sector to create jobs," he said, noting he agrees with Brown that it's not the government's role to create jobs "although the high-speed rail project will be doing just that."
State Sen. Bob Huff, R-Walnut, said he was encouraged by Brown's acknowledgment that California needs to pay down its debt, create a reserve fund and avoid encumbering college students with more tuition hikes.
California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro was a little less enthusiastic.
"There's still no plan to create jobs," he said. "If you're unemployed, you want action, not rhetoric."
Brown's speech was filled with the rhetorical gems and historical references that are hallmarks of his addresses. But it did not break new ground, aside from the announcement of a trade mission to China in April.
The main topics Brown included have been addressed previously, including in his budget proposal earlier this month. Those include reform of K-12 education funding, the need for the higher education systems to hold down costs, promotion of the $68 billion high-speed rail system, the continued need to combat climate change and building massive twin water tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta at a cost of $14 billion.
His speech seemed partially intended to lay out the achievements he hopes to leave after his current tenure in the Governor's Office is over. Brown served from 1975-83, in the era before term limits, before being elected to his latest term in 2010.
Despite the big-ticket projects Brown sees as a priority, he urged the Legislature to rein in its temptation to add burdensome regulations and to practice fiscal restraint with the additional tax money approved by voters.
"We have promises to keep," he told a joint session of the Legislature held in the Assembly chamber. "And the most important is the one we made to the voters if Proposition 30 passed: that we would guard jealously the money temporarily made available."
Left relatively powerless, Republicans have taken a somewhat conciliatory approach to the governor in the first month of the new legislative session, looking for areas where they could align with him and against legislative Democrats, some of whom wish to expand social programs that were cut in recent years.
One of those is on Brown's call to alter the California Environmental Quality Act, a law that was intended to protect animals and habitat but has been co-opted by NIMBY-ism. Community activists, environmentalists and even rival developers use the law to block developments they don't like, even in already highly developed areas.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said Democrats made difficult budget cuts in recent years and he said his party is poised to make smart investments in health and human services, education and higher education.
"We handled adversity well; we can handle success very well," Steinberg said. "The governor is right. We need to focus on a rainy day fund. We need to focus on paying down debt. But if the economy keeps growing and if there is room to invest in the appropriate ways ... we, of course, will do that."
The governor proposed changes to the environmental law as part of a broader initiative to restore the 1.3 million jobs California lost during the recession. He also wants to reform the state's job hiring credit for businesses and change the enterprise zone program.
Brown and other proponents of high-speed rail say that project also will be a major job-producer, but it has been losing favor with the public as its projected costs have soared. In his address, the governor said completing the system is crucial for the future of transportation in a state approaching 40 million people and is just the type of cutting-edge initiative for which the state is famous.
Staff Writer Brenda Gazzar and The Associated Press contributed to this report.