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Liveblogging the Debate: Meg Attacks, Jerry Defends

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

In a well-argued and classic ideological debate for governor, Republican Meg Whitman Tuesday night aggressively attacked Democrat Jerry Brown as a tool of public employee unions who will do nothing to change the status quo in Sacramento while he repeatedly portrayed her as an ill-prepared Schwarzenegger clone with policies designed to serve only the rich.

“I don’t think you can find two more different candidates,” Whitman told reporters moments after the event at UC Davis ended, summing up the sharp contrasts between her and Brown on major issues, especially tax policy, illegal immigration and their ability to work effectively as governor to balance competing interests.

“I think it was a very exciting exchange,” Brown said after the debate. “I think the views and major differences were very well projected and I think people are in a little better position to make a judgment.”

Although the candidates for governor were closely matched, Whitman kept Brown on defense throughout much of the one-hour event at UC Davis, repeating the attack lines from her commercials. Brown, however, was more natural, funny and unrehearsed, as he reached to make a more personal connection with voters who might be just tuning into the race.

“I care a great deal about public service,” Brown said in his best riff. “I think it’s honorable. And I’ve lived in this state all my life. I love it and I voted here all my life. God willing, I’ll spend the rest of my life and die in this state. I love it.

Polished, if somewhat nervous, eMeg was consistently on message and solid in discussing policy as she kept up a steady stream of sharp criticism against Brown’s record on taxes and spending during his first turn as governor, and his performance on schools and crime while mayor of Oakland. Time and again she hit him over the strong financial backing he has from labor, playing on public anger against government and pessimism about the direction the state is headed.

Whitman’s best line, after noting that Brown and the labor unions have been joined at the hip for decades: “Putting Jerry Brown in charge of negotiating with the labor unions around pensions, around how many people we have in the government is like putting Count Dracula in charge of the blood bank.”

Feisty, funny and self-deprecating about his age, Brown used  rhetorical jujitsu to turn some of Whitman’s attacks back on her, painting her corporate experience as too limited and too shallow to stand up to the pressures of being governor. He not only compared the business executive rationale for her candidacy to Schwarzenegger’s, but also linked her both to the Wall Street meltdown and to George Bush supply side policies in Washington, saying her call for a capital gains tax cut would “benefit millionaires and billionaires” including her. “Unions, yeah, they have their problems, but what about business over there?”

Besides taxes, the clearest difference between the two came on illegal immigration, with Brown saying he would support a “path to citizenship” for the millions of undocumented workers in California and Whitman saying she would oppose it.

Asked how voters could be sure he wouldn’t run for president again like he did the last time he was elected governor, Brown replied: “Age. Hell, if I was younger you know I’d be running again. But I’d say at 74, whatever it’s going to be in a couple of years, I’m ready. One more thing, I now have a wife. And you know, I come home at night. I don’t try to close down the bars of Sacramento like I used to do when I was governor of California.”

Whitman made a strong defense of the $119 million of her own funds she has invested in the campaign.  “I’m up against some very significant forces,” she said. “In the last five years, public employee unions and unions throughout California have spent over $300 million on politics in California. So I’m up against a pretty big set of entrenched interests. But you know what? I think Californians are really smart. I don’t think you can buy elections. I think Californians are too smart.”

Bottom line: an exciting and entertaining event that will not change the dynamic of the race.

Live blog begins here.

4:15 pm The Calbuzz National Affairs Desk is spread coast-to-coast tonight, watching the Dustup in Davis from the Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall on the UC Davis campus and from a secret livestream location on the Jersey Shore (where, in a separate campaign, the lines are crackling as voters demand The Situation not get dumped from “Dancing With the Stars”).

Before our vast team of reporters, editors, photographers and IT support settled in for the evening, however, we dropped by the Paul and Lydia Kalmanovitz Appellate Court to hear some friends and eggheads explain to us what to look for in tonight’s event.

Of course, we thought we had a pretty good handle on that when we told you what to look for this morning, but with FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur, SF Chronicle political whirligig Carla Marinucci and three chrome domes from the UCD faculty to inform us, we couldn’t resist.

Here’s what we learned: debates can matter, gotcha moments can be important, how a candidate carries him or herself can affect impressions, voters are angry, the people who will be most affected by the debate aren’t watching — they’ll hear about it on TV, radio, newspapers and the internets.

Stop the presses.

More importantly, it looks like the food at the Mondavi Center is not going to be as good as it was at St. Mary’s, where Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina went at it a few weeks ago. Cookies, jelly beans, bite-sized candy bars, coffee and water. Pretty basic. But hey, as UC Davis’s Claudia Morain explained: “We’re a public university, not a private school.” Point taken.

4:30 pm The press center is now filling up with ink-stained wretches and wretchettes from all the major MSMs and minor ones too, while Whitman’s Sarah Pompei and Brown’s Sterling Clifford schmooze reporters.

This just in — Mitchel Benson, the Assistant Vice Chancellor for University Communications and Baking at UC Davis just dropped off a plate of lemon bars, thereby pushing the food measure beyond St. Mary’s. Also, now, soft drinks! Way to go Mitch.

6 pm : It’s on: Nice quick cuts dramatic open from KCRA.

Jerry entered wearing dark suit, Meg in dark suit with fuschia top underneath, they meet in the middle of the stage and shake hands, like it’s some kind of duel, which actually it is.

Question 1 from SacBee Amy Chance: Is Sacto ungovernable?

eMeg is just delighted to be here. She wants to get Californians back to work. Enacting targeted tax cuts, streamline regs, econ development plan, blah, blah…

(Meg’s eyebags darker and larger than usual – staying up late cramming for debate?)

Amy sez: Yeah, but what about my question?

Brown puts both hands up. “I do know something about budgets.” Budget a “key characteristic of how screwed up things are” – Duh…

Says he’ll start earlier on the budget, a point that eMeg just picked his pocket on…”Transparent, exhaustive process.”

Start with gov office, legislature budget, then the agencies…”We can cut…they’re still fooling around with a lot of fat up there.”

Meg says the only way he’ll bring people together is by bringing special interests and unions  into the same room. Says unions will be there to collect IOUs.

Jerry counter-punches by noting Meg’s tax cut would benefit “millionaires and billionaires like Ms. Whitman.” Says she’d take from education to line the pockets of the rich.

Q2: Death penalty cases take too long?

Jerry reprises his personal opposition but says he will continue to do everything to implement the law.

“I’d rather have a society where we didn’t have to have the death penalty but we have it so we have to make it work.”

Meg : I will be a tough on crime governor no doubt about it.  Says this is a big contrast between her and Brown who, she says, has not been tough on crime for 40 years. Brings up Rose Bird – does anyone remember who she is?

Starts talking about something called the Criminal Justice League getting stiffed by Brown. Is Superman a member of that?

Brown slightly defensive on response. Strange answer on appointing judges by comparing himself to Dwight Eisenhower.

Meg: “Well, the record in Oakland is actually not very good” with weirdo laugh. Claims Brown has “had a change of heart.”

Q3 from Marianne Russ on job creation.

Meg repeats shtick on cutting business taxes, cutting red tape. Says other states are poaching all our jobs and that she was with Texas Governor Rick Perry who told her he comes on “hunting trips” to California looking for businesses.

Brown: Meg’s plan is taken from “the George Bush playbook.” He won’t give a $5 billion tax break to myself himself, much less to the “millionaires and the billionaires.”  He wants to create green jobs and clean energy, and oppose Prop 23 – cutaway shows grinning and looking a little like a bobblehead.

Meg has good eye contact with the camera though.

Amy Chance asks about pensions and why Jerry would reform the system if he’s benefiting from it  me.

Jerry makes night’s first funny. Says he’s worked 40 years for $78K, and if he’s elected won’t take a pension until he’s 76 and if reelected won’t take it until he’s 80: “I’m the best pension buy California has seen.”

How about you Meg – how can you negotiate if you know nothing about government?

Says she doesn’t matter because she owns nothing to unions. Doesn’t answer the question of how she could deal with the unions in favor of usual talking points. Says he has “a spine of steel” and will go to the ballot for pension reform.

Very energetic Brown says Meg is pot calling kettle black. How can she complain about union contributions when she has spent so much and has huge contributions from fat cats who will benefit from her proposal to cut capital gains?

Meg asked about lousy voting record. Briefly repeats by rote her apology and says “If I could change history I would” then immediately moves back to talking points about getting California moving again and creating jobs.

Q pivot to Jerry: You ran for president constantly when governor last time – what’s going to stop you this time?

“Age…one more thing – I now have a wife, I’m not trying to close down the bars of Sacramento.”

Rubs his head and says, “Don’t worry about that” running for president.

Meg rebuttal: Jerry Brown has had “no success improving Sacramento for the better.” Rips Brown record both in Sacramento and Oakland.

Jerry annoyed. It would take me too long to answer all of it but big surplus “didn’t come from the tooth fairy – I created the damn thing.”

Q: Will you roll back spending cuts for higher ed systems?

Brown can’t promise to do it with a $19 billion deficit and can’t even promise to freeze even though he loves UC.

How about you Meg ?

Says she’s going to find $1 billion in new money to give UC by reforming pensions and welfare programs. She thinks higher ed system is “a gem.”

“We’ve got to put Californians back to work” she says for at least for the fourth or fifth time.

She’s going to take “managerial expertise” to Sacramento.

Yeah swell says Marianne but what about my question about holding the line on fee increases?

I’d leave it to the chancellors.

Good question by Amy: How can voters trust you when you distort the truth in your ads?

Meg: I don’t accept the premise of your question. Defends the Clinton/CNN ad and says she “stands by it”. (Someone checking into campaign first time has no idea what she’s talking about). Good close about need to change status quo.

Amy asks Jerry if he’s proud of his Pinocchio ad?

He says it’s “a helluva ad” and that “Pinocchio is standing by” to make Meg’s nose grow for the stuff she’s saying tonight.

Follow-up – Meg what do you think about Jerry saying he likes his ad?

She goes right back to Clinton ad and says Brown opposed Prop. 13. Very good answer about lack of accountability and tut-tuts Brown for letting down parents and kids in Oakland after promising to be “education mayor”.

Jerry jumps in, says yes he did oppose Prop. 13 but Howard Jarvis voted for him and said that Brown made it work. Strong answer.

What about immigration?

Brown supports a “path to citizenship” and “secure the borders.” As AG says he works with ICE on fingerprint program to make sure to deport illegals who break the law.

Workplace inspections part of the solution? Yes, but feds have to do it.

How about you Meg?

I would not support a path to legalization. Workplace inspections. Eliminate sanctuary cities: “The worst, of course, is San Francisco.”

“I’m been very balanced and very fair about this” said she would have opposed Prop. 187, (had she lived here and, perhaps, if she would have voted in any case). Opposes Arizona law.

“Illegal immigration is just that, illegal and we have to stop the magnet” – somewhere out there Steve Poizner is hocking up choking on his beer.

Big difference on path to citizenship.

Q: Aren’t you trying to buy the election?

Says she has to spend this much because unions spent a total of $300 billion over five years. This will give me independence. If you want someone who will just go along, then I’m not your candidate. Casting Jerry as status quo.

Changes in campaign finance laws? “Not the first thing I would tackle.” Ha!

Q to J: How will you be independent given support of unions? There isn’t anybody cheaper: “I was legendary for my frugality.”

“Unions yeah they have their problem – but what about business over here?”

Trying to tie Meg to Wall Street, talking speaking up for the working class – “people who clean bed pans, our police, our fire…I do cherish and appreciate the work they do…We’ve tried this business of the business person coming in with a spine of steel.”

Brown: “The Chamber of the Commerce has a secret slush fund that they use to attack me.” Calls on Meg to make them disclose. Meg looks disapproving with a major smirk.

Meg: “Putting Jerry Brown in charge of (state government) “is like putting Count Dracula in charge of the blood bank.” Good line that Murphy surely told her she had to get in. Now she’s going to convene a statewide grand jury.

Brown response says “I know how to stand up against people and I know how to work with people.”

“I’ve got, at my age, the independence” to do the job.

Amy on water: Will you support Peripheral Canal?

Brown: I’ll support whatever works. Notes he sponsored last PC plan. His basic idea is that if you use the water, you have to pay for it.

Meg: “Turning our backs on water is turning our backs on jobs.” Sound bites: cheaper by the dozen.

She was for Arnold’s water bond plan that got bumped from the ballot. We have a humanitarian crisis in the Central Valley.

Final statements:

Meg: Changes her money line (“I refuse to let California to fail”) to “I refuse to believe this state, our beautiful state, cannot be better than it is. ”

She believes in the power of money many.

Brown thought long and hard about running. It’s a hard job, it’s not for someone who comes from private sector and has just run a business – it’s harder and more complicated and you don’t have all the power.

“Know-how and experience.”

“My values are different in important ways” – repeats his refusal to support tax cut for millionaires, billionaires.

Final word gets to Prop. 23 – should not suspend AB 32.

Duel in Davis: Newbie Plutocrat Versus Labor Stooge

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Here’s your match-up for tonight’s long-awaited debate between wannabe governors Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman:

A washed-up, tax-and-spend liberal in the pocket of greedy labor unions who want to plunder your pocketbook, boost their pensions and bankrupt California will face off against a mendacious plutocrat who flip-flops on key issues, can’t be bothered to vote and wants to enrich avaricious corporations at the expense of the middle class.

At least that’s how the Republican and Democratic candidates would like you to perceive their rivals at the end of their one-hour televised showdown at UC Davis.

While the 6 p.m. event, is unlikely to draw a large viewing audience (among other things, it’s up against reruns of “Seinfeld” and “The King of Queens”) the post-debate news clips and statewide blanket coverage, analysis and commentary about the showdown, by mainstream media and the blogosphere alike, will largely shape the public impressions and narratives of the final weeks of the race — at a time when most voters are just starting to tune in to the campaign.

It’s one thing to use 30-second spots and political surrogates to call a political opponent a “liar,” an epithet both campaigns repeatedly have aimed at the other, but it’s quite another matter to stand on a stage a few feet away from your foe and make the same bombastic charges face-to-face.

In performing under high political pressure, Brown and Whitman face the same opportunity on substance, but distinctly different challenges on style.

The crucial substantive goal for each is to convince voters he or she has fresh ideas and represents change in contrast to the other’s status quo: Stylistically, Brown must combine his slashing aggressiveness with a civil tone, overcome his prickly defensiveness about his past and ensure his famously iconoclastic candor doesn’t lead him into a verbal blunder; Whitman must break through her air of landed gentry aloofness, reach beyond her robotic recitations of tightly disciplined talking points and show she understands and can connect with real-life problems of real people.

Brown is an experienced debater, but hasn’t been in a big-time political arena in almost two decades and, particularly in debating a woman, must avoid coming across as nasty or indulging his habit of showing contempt for those with whom he disagrees. Voters like a gentleman, so watch for him to call her “Ms. Whitman” and try not to get too personal, while keeping the focus on her plans to cut taxes for the rich and lay off tens of thousands of public employees. He’s likely to cite her wobbly inconsistencies during the campaign on immigration, offshore oil drilling and the Proposition 23 climate change issue to undercut her with Latinos and independents, casting her as a poll-tested market brand.

Whitman likes to stay relentlessly on message, but she turned in a shaky performance in the single high-profile debate of the Republican primary, appearing slow in thinking on her feet and adapting her message when being attacked in real time. Look for her to call Brown “governor,” to position him as the incumbent, but try not to seem heavy-handed in portraying him as a too-old, over-the-hill career politician, to avoid insulting senior citizens, who actually vote. She’ll hammer away at his close ties to labor and blame him for ushering in an era of cushy wages, benefits and pensions for unions, while arguing her ideas for creating private sector jobs trump his record of padding public payrolls.

Brown gets wildly irritated when he feels that someone is mischaracterizing his record as governor or mayor of Oakland, so Whitman will try to keep him talking about his past, goading him with charges that he raised billions in taxes and failed miserably in helping the city’s schools, and forcing him to spend time explaining away anew the slashing charges Bill Clinton made against him in their much-discussed 1992 presidential primary debate, all issues she’s highlighted in her tough ads.

Whitman’s Achilles heel, on the other hand, is her difficulty in admitting a mistake, so Brown may try to make her burn up time insisting she’s not unethical, by resurfacing attacks on how she made a killing on IPO shares from Goldman Sachs, a practice later made illegal, when the investment bank was courting her business as CEO of eBay. Brown will likely link her calls to cut the capital gains tax and regulation on business with GOP fiscal policies that triggered the Wall Street meltdown and the recession.

Both candidates have had trouble making a connection to voters but a debate is a difficult format in which to connect. What most voters will see from it – if anything – are a few snappy sound bites and remarks. A put-down, delivered with good humor, is what makes a classic sound bite, as in Ronald Reagan’s comment about Walter Mondale: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

But Brown probably won’t say, “I fully intend to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

And Whitman likely won’t say, “I knew Pat Brown and Jerry, you’re no Pat Brown.” But only because she didn’t know Pat Brown.

Drinking game: Take a shot every time Brown mentions Whitman’s “phony plans,” or the “obscene amounts of money” she has spent on her “campaign attack ads,” and throw one down whenever she says he “raised taxes, ” turned “a surplus into a deficit” or “opposed Proposition 13.”

You’ll be blotto by debate’s end.

Field Poll: Brown, Whitman Tied in Governor’s Race

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Today’s Field Poll — showing the race for governor a dead heat, with Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown at 41% each — suggests opportunities and challenges for both candidates. But one number jumps out at us: despite spending in the range of $60 million on TV advertising alone, eMeg’s favorable rating has not improved one iota in six months.

And while most of her advertising has been aimed at undermining Brown’s image with voters – and she has driven up his unfavorable rating by 7 points since July – Brown’s favorable-to-unfavorable rating is still slightly better than Whitman’s. Hers is 40% favorable and 45% unfavorable (5% net negative); his is 44% favorable and 47% unfavorable (3% net negative).

In other words, Whitman’s vaunted and record-shattering media strategy is working to drag down Brown but it’s failing to boost eMeg herself. It’s hard to see where she can improve except among independents, where she is currently splitting the vote with Brown at 38% each.

If these are her most important target voters in the coming weeks, we can expect to see Whitman try to portray herself as a moderate on issues like climate change (which would mean NOT endorsing Prop. 23’s unraveling of California’s greenhouse-gas controls) and continuing to soften her language on illegal immigration.

The trick is to draw independents to her without angering her base vote among conservative Republicans who won’t be happy if she moves to the middle on any issue – especially climate change. But what are the right wingers going to do? Vote for Brown or refuse to vote, and thereby let Brown win? Probably not.

On the other hand, Brown – whose media campaign only began on Labor Day — is struggling to win the support he needs among independents, women, Latinos, voters in Los Angeles and even his own Democratic base.

Brown Whitman
Democrats 69 15
Republicans 9 75
Independents 38 38
Men 41 40
Women 41 41
Whites 40 44
Latinos* 43 40
LA County 38 41
Other SoCal 34 50
Central Valley 33 47
SF Bay Area 64 27
Other NorCal 36 36
Coastal 46 37
Inland 31 49
*very small sample
Field Poll 9/13/10

Because far more women are Democrats compared to Republicans, Whitman’s tie with Brown among women is remarkable. Moreover, if she really is pulling four-in-10 Latinos (and the sample is apparently not reliable, which the Field Poll should address in its next survey), then here, too, she is doing far better than your run-of-the-mill Republican.

Calbuzz is hampered in its analysis of the survey because we do not have access to the crosstabs. The Field Poll has refused to allow Calbuzz to become a paid subscriber to the survey and the results we have come from sources.

Whitman’s people will argue that the Field Poll shows their campaign is on target – that an unknown former CEO who had no political profile in California is running dead even with a man whose name is a household word in California politics and who has been in public life for more than half his 72 years.

But there’s a flaw in the argument in that Whitman, after spending record millions and throwing everything in the book at Brown, has failed thus far to knock him off his stride. And his media campaign has only just begun.

On Wednesday, Brown released a new ad attacking Whitman for advocating “eliminating the capital gains tax for wealthy investors, including herself.” Who this ad is supposed to move is unclear, but we guess it’s aimed at independents and moderates who are flirting with Whitman but might back away if they think she’ll bust the budget to benefit herself and her rich cronies.

When you look at the places where there’s room to expand their vote, Brown appears to have greater opportunities than does Whitman.

— He should kill Whitman among Latinos if he actually campaigned among them. If he put up Spanish-language ads mentioning her relationship with Pete Wilson (her campaign chairman) and her opposition to a path to citizenship (which 90% of Latinos favor), Brown would likely swamp her in that community.

— He should be beating her in LA County, where labor is strong, the Latino vote is big and coastal issues and offshore oil drilling are important. To do this, he’ll have to give voters there a reason to be FOR him, not just against Whitman.

— He should be doing much better among Democrats (especially younger voters who don’t know him) and women, both of whom he could be reaching with target mail, TV and radio, if he ever decides to spend the $30 million he’s stashed away.

On the other hand, if Whitman can improve her image among independents, women and Latinos, she well could pull out a victory. The new ad she released on Wednesday, with the tag line  “A governor ready on day one to start creating good jobs,” is aimed at reminding undecided voters of Hillary Clinton’s “Ready on day one” slogan and keep the emphasis on jobs (with no mention of cutting capital gains taxes).

Demonstrating her superior financial ability, Whitman also put up a new hit on Brown, charging that he failed to improve Oakland schools. Our prediction: the negative ad will get a lot more airtime than the positive one.

Despite all the sturm und drang of this campaign, the one big thing that has changed significantly in the past three months is that all the negative campaigning has driven up the number of undecided voters so that nearly two in 10 are now not sure who they’re for – if anyone.

The Field Poll surveyed 857 registered voters, including 599 likely voters, Sept. 14-21. The overall margin of error for the survey is +/- 4.1% and for likely voters it is +/- 5.8%. The data for this article are based on likely voters.

The Death of Truth II; Meg’s Big Decision; Bill 4 Jerry

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

You see an ad on TV in which a candidate or someone else says flatly, “______ (my opponent) raised taxes.” And you say to yourself, “Gee, that must be true or they wouldn’t allow it on TV.”

Wrong. Under the Federal Communications Act, which governs broadcast stations (because the airwaves, allegedly at least, belong to the people), candidates may lie with impunity.

In fact, the law “requires broadcasters who run candidate ads to show them uncensored, even if the broadcasters believe their content to be offensive or false,” as Brooks Jackson, explained in the best primer on the issue on the web.

Ironically, that’s the same Brooks Jackson, formerly of CNN, whose erroneous report is the evidence Bill Clinton is referring to in the Meg Whitman ad that falsely accuses Jerry Brown of raising taxes when he was governor. (Clinton, btw, has since denounced the ad.)

The First Amendment, which we all remember says “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech,” makes it really difficult for anyone to craft legislation allowing any third party to adjudicate what is and is not “true” or “factual” in political speech.

All a candidate has to do is show a picture in the ad of himself or herself and have a statement saying he or she approved the ad. And they can lie away, which they often do. (For further discussion of this phenomenon see “The Death of Truth: eMeg and the Politics of Lying.”)

Which is why, according to Brown’s mouth organ The Sterling of Clifford, “Most people assume what they see in political ads is not true. People see a commercial and they go to whatever news source they trust to confirm or reject what they just heard.”

This is not the same in commercial speech, which is where the confusion comes in.

Ford cannot run an ad saying its latest car will get 100 miles to the gallon if that’s not a fact. If a commercial product makes a claim that’s not substantiated by facts or is not a subjective observation like “It’s Amazing!” then the ad can be censored by the TV station or network and the sponsor may be liable for damages.

A candidate’s right to lie in commercials, however, does not necessarily extend to political committees and other political players besides candidates themselves. That’s because when broadcast stations run ads from committees making charges, they may be held liable if the person skewered decides to sue for libel or slander.

Now, for a public figure to win a libel or slander suit is really, really, really hard because he or she has to show that the person or entity being sued knew the facts were wrong and broadcast them anyway with malicious intention. The standard is deliberately difficult for public figures in order to encourage robust public debate without fear of being charged with false defamation.

So, Calbuzzers, when you see an ad on TV, check to see who paid for it at the end. If it was put up by a candidate, no one had to say whether it was true or not before it was broadcast. That’s why newspapers, online sites, radio and TV reporters pay attention to what’s in those political ads. They’re the only ones who can tell you whether they’re based on truth or falsehood.

Department of Dumb Ideas: Regular readers of Calbuzz know that we have nothing but respect and affection for our friend George Skelton at the ByGodLA Times (he’s got even more institutional memory than we do!). But his piece arguing that Jerry Brown should pledge to serve only one term suggested that George is desperately seeking fresh material about the current state of politics, even if he has to resort to what he knows is a bonehead idea. Which, he acknowledged by saying: “I don’t know of anyone else who thinks it’s a good idea.” You got that right, George. Unless Krusty — should he happen to beat eMeg — wants to start out his third term as the lamest duck ever to sit in the horseshoe’s back office.

Yes, no, maybe so: Meg Whitman kept bobbing and weaving on Proposition 23 Monday, telling the Sacramento Bee editorial board she was pretty sure she’d be making her stance on the most high-profile measure on the November ballot clear any day now.

When asked about Proposition 23, which would suspend the state’s global warming law AB 32, Whitman said she would release a list of her proposition positions at the end of this week or at the start of next week.

Or maybe whenever the eMeg Empire marketing department gets around to telling her what she thinks.

Whitman has been all over the lot on the out-of-state-oil-company-financed measure, aimed at blocking California’s landmark legislation; she’s variously bashed AB32 as “a job killer,” said she favored suspending it for one year instead of indefinitely and just completely dithered on the matter, as she did with the Bee ed board.

A few hours before her latest procrastination, Brown, who opposes Prop. 23, stepped up the pressure on eMeg at a campaign stop with green industry types at a SoCal solar company:

Meg Whitman wants to have it both ways. She wants credit for supporting the environment and green jobs, but she won’t do what is necessary to support this vital industry. We need a governor who will do what is right, not a governor who doesn’t know what is right.

When she finally does get around to taking a position, we’ll be surprised if Whitman comes out in favor of Prop. 23.

Despite efforts to pressure her from the right she simply has nothing to gain by backing the measure. The election between her and Brown will be decided among independents, who strongly favor AB32; sure, the right-wingers will be grumpy if she doesn’t support their who-really-knows-if-global-warming-is really-real  proposal, but what else are they going to do – write in Chuck DeVore?

Bill Brushes Off Jerry’s Gaffe: In an interview with Yahoo! News and the Huffington Post, Bubba said all’s good between him and Jerry Brown and that he understands why the old man made his stupid joke about not having taxes with this state. Also: “Unbelievable,” Clinton said. “Meg Whitman made me a household face again and my younger self, too, which I’m very grateful for.”

Memo to Pundits; Carly Comes Clean; Don’t Miss TV

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Jeez, it’s not even Labor Day and your austerity-based Calbuzz pundits are already deep in despair from listening to East Coast pundits-for-hire punditize for big bucks about California’s campaigns, as if they actually knew something about the state.

But we don’t complain.

However, we do suggest that rather than endlessly spouting superficial crapchurn, the Beltway Big Thinkers educate themselves about the not-so-Golden State, starting with the Public Policy Institute of California’s latest set of profiles on the electorate.

Wherein the savants will discover that:

— Democrats comprise 44% of likely voters, Republicans 35% and independents 18%.

— Six in 10 voters are either liberal (31%) or moderate (29%) while just 40% are conservative.

— About four in 10 independents (39%) lean Democrat and about three in 10 each lean Republican or toward neither party.

— Latinos, of whom 65% are Democrats, comprise 18% of the likely electorate and two-thirds of them are either moderate (33%) or liberal (32%) while about one third are conservative.

Here’s the nut graph in the PPIC report:

Because neither of the major political parties has a majority of California’s registered voters, independents are influential in statewide elections. For example, in the previous gubernatorial election, 54% of independents in our post-election survey said they voted for Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. But in the 2008 presidential election, most independents (59%) said they supported Democrat Barack Obama. In each case, the outcome reflected the choice of the majority of independents.

This explains in part why Calbuzz has consistently argued that Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina’s opposition to 1) a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and 2) California’s pioneering climate-change law, AB 32 (which polling shows independents favor), represent a substantive problem for the Republican candidates.

On the other hand, more voters now prefer lower taxes and fewer state services (48%) compared to those who prefer higher taxes and more services (43%) – a potential problem for Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer.

California elections remain a battle for the moderate and independent voters who have only loose ties to either Democratic or Republican orthodoxy.

As the unerring-instinct-for-the-obvious cable TV swamis endlessly repeat,   polling shows that the economy is the No. 1 issue among voters; that would be what you call news that stays news.

But we remain convinced that for many voters in the crucial precincts of the moderate middle, once they identify a candidate as extreme on certain threshold issues – like choice, environment and legalization of immigrants – they don’t care what their position is on the economy or anything else. They’re off the table.

Elephant gives birth to mouse: Did Carly Fiorina burn the midnight oil after Wednesday night’s debate, cramming to get up to speed on Proposition 23, the oil-company sponsored initiative to roll back California’s greenhouse gas emissions law?

Through 15 rounds of excruciatingly annoying avoidance, Fiorina refused, both in the debate and in a brief press conference that followed, to state a clear position on Prop. 23, even though it was clear to every person who hadn’t fallen sound asleep that she supported the measure, given her endless attacks on the landmark climate change legislation the thing would repeal.

“I’m focusing on a national energy policy,” she solemnly informed debate moderator Randy Shandobil, when he pleaded with her to answer a simple yes or no question about her stance on the measure.

So on Friday, after being roundly mocked for her bush league hemming and hawing (not to mention bashed on the air by John and Ken, our favorite L.A. radio knuckledraggers ) Fiorina finally put out a release about her  positions on the ballot props.

Turns out she supports Prop. 23. Stop the presses Maude…oh, never mind…

Which raises the question: Why all the game playing Wednesday night? Why not just say she’s for Prop. 23 and be done with it, instead of creating a pointless kerfuffle about all her wiggling around? Six possible reasons:

a) She was confused. The Prop. 23 question didn’t come up in debate prep, and she was so tightly wound that her dyslexia kicked in so she couldn’t remember whether Prop. 23 suspended AB 32 or Prop. 32 suspended AB 23.

b) She was being a control freak. Under pressure, her OCD kicked in and she thought it would be wayyyy too messy to disclose her positions on the other eight props in the press release aimed at the all-important Saturday papers, having already let the cat out of the bag on the big one.

c) She was being calculating. Anxious about coverage describing how she’s gotten so far out on the right that she’ll have trouble attracting independents, she thought maybe she could finesse the issue.

d) She was being stupid. See c) .

e) She was conflicted. She really, really wanted to take some time reflecting and pondering the complexities and nuances of the measure. (Oy/ed.)

f) She hadn’t been told what she thought yet. The Wilson-Khachigian axis was still determining the final “band aid” spin to explain her opposition.

Calbuzz sez:  f).

In case you (somehow) missed it: Here is the must-see video of Arizona Governor and chief nitwit Jan Brewer melting down in a televised debate  (h/t Jason Linkins).

Second City’s imagined take at how the deal went down is here and Craig Ferguson’s sound effects version (warning: not for those averse to fart jokes) is here.

Hard to believe, but Brewer actually did herself a favor with that world-class Bambi-in-the-high-beams performance, as it distracted attention from her much more serious screw-up of excitedly telling the world about beheadings in the Arizona desert that,well, actually didn’t happen.

"Off with their heads!"

For good measure, you can find Brewer’s dig-yourself-in-deeper comments that 1) she only did the debate because she wanted to get public campaign funding; 2) doesn’t like “adversarial” situations; 3) won’t participate in any more debates here.