Update 2:45 p.m. Calbuzz Steady Hand Video is up with a piece by video reporter Jennifer Fey of the action that took place outside the debate hall and press room last night. Her report is here.
In a sharp, fast-paced and intelligent debate, managed expertly by former NBC newsman Tom Brokaw, Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown gave any voters still undecided about the governor’s race as clear a choice as they could want: a businesswoman focused on private sector jobs and a lifelong public official focused on untangling gridlock in government.
Whitman scored well on a variety of issues, including a double dose of arguing that Brown is soft on crime and in the pocket of the unions. Brown hammered Whitman on her plan to cut capital gains taxes to benefit the rich and her failure to support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Brokaw asked impertinent questions with ease: What made Whitman interested in government after not voting for so many years? Did Brown sanction the use of the word “whore” to describe Whitman by someone in his campaign?
Brown, unexpectedly, was the first to attack, asking Whitman how much she personally would make if her plan to cut the capital gains tax was approved. But Whitman ridiculed Brown’s argument that he would cut the governor’s office budget and said he’d be “the same old same old.”
While Whitman demonstrated skill and knowledge, there was nothing in the debate that changed the dynamic of the race. However it was on Monday it will remain on Wednesday. Rare is the candidate who can use a debate to make himself or herself more appealing. Neither candidate did that, but neither did they make themselves more unappealing.
One note for Brokaw: In comparing the use of the word “whore” by someone on Brown’s staff to describe Whitman’s alleged sell-out to the Los Angeles police union to the use of the “n” word, Brokaw framed the issue with a false equivalency. One is a slur; the other is a blood libel. He knows better: that’s why he could say the word “whore” but had to use “the n word” as it’s “equivalent.”
Late add: That said, Brown’s apology was weak and his response was defensive and ineffective — and that’s what got picked up by most of the writers about the debate.
A brief rundown on key issues covered:
– Capital gains taxes: Meg wants to cut them because they’re a tax on jobs and innovation; Jerry says that would drive California even further into debt and steal billions from schools.
– Immigration: Whitman wants to secure the borders, bring in temporary workers and adopt new technology to verify citizenship; Brown also wants border security but emphasizes comprehensive reform and supports a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, which Whitman opposes.
– Using the word “whore”: Whitman takes it personally that someone in Brown’s camp suggested calling her a “whore,” and she’s deeply offended for all women; Brown said he’s sorry the word was used and referenced a Calbuzz report about Whitman’s campaign chairman, Pete Wilson, calling members of Congress “whores.” He rejected Brokaw drawing equivalency between the campaigns use of the “w” word and referring to African-Americans with the “n” word.
– Crime: Whitman says Brown has been soft on crime for 40 years, that he doesn’t support the death penalty and appointed Rose Bird, who voted to overturn the death penalty 64 times, to the Supreme Court; Brown said he’s tough as nails, has the police chiefs backing (or was it in his back pocket?) and has defended the death penalty as AG.
– Unions: Whitman says Brown is owned by the labor bosses who have lavishly funded his campaign and that he won’t be able to stand up to the teachers union; Brown says he’s been there before and has denied labor’s demands when he’s had to.
–Pensions: They agree on the need for pension reform – later retirement age, greater employee contributions, two-tier system – but Meg says Jerry can’t pull it off because of his union support. He says he started doing pension reform long before she came to California and can do it more effectively because he can bring all the parties to the table while she vilifies labor. He says he exemption of law enforcement from her call for an end to defined benefit plans is a sell-out, she say cops deserve better treatment.
–AB 32: Meg says the number of green jobs to be created in the short term is not worth losing existing jobs under current economic conditions. Jerry says her moratorium plan will cause uncertainty for investors, and the only ones who want to get rid of existing law are big oil and petrochemical companies.
–Prop. 8 – Meg says she is against gay marriage and that Brown shirked his duty as AG by not defending Prop. 8 in court. He said he acted properly, and according to precedent, by refusing to defend a measure that imposes discrimination.
–National political leaders – He said he welcomes Obama campaigning for him in California and thinks he’s doing a good job. She said she’ll be otherwise occupied when Sarah Palin comes to the state and that she supports someone else – Mitt Romney – for president.
6:20 p.m - On the live feed into the press room, the president of Dominican University just introduced moderator Tom Brokaw, who comes out on crutches. He says he suffered an unidentified “mishap” on his Montana ranch and says he’s a lot like California: “We’re both broken at the moment,” he said. “The difference is that I hope to be repaired by the end of the year.”
Talks about his personal, professional and family attachments to California: “In so many ways, California is a distillation of America.” Adds that he hopes to affect “the tone of this campaign.”
Brokaw introduces Jerry to the audience, recalling he first met Krusty with he, Tom, was covering Pat Brown’s campaign for governor in 1966. Introduces Meg as “one of the rock stars of the dot.com era.”
6:30 Throw to Brokaw after big taped plug for D.U. He says we’re going to learn lots of stuff about practically everything. Explains the ground rules – no opening statements. First question to Meg.
Tom waaaayyyy up on Mt. Olympus – JFK’s inaugural address is cited — asks the candidates to tell voters what they – the voters – can do for California.
Meg immediately starts talking about herself. Straight campaign schtick and talking points. Doesn’t answer the question except to say that “What people will have to do is support the next governor,” “pull together” and “there’s going to be some shared sacrifice.”
Brown on talking points too: Can’t point fingers, “rise above the poisonous partisanship” rise above categories and be Californians first. “Some people say this is a failed state – it’s not.” He doesn’t answer either.
Tom cites poll that says voters believe that we could cut 20 percent of budget without much affect: “Have voters become unrealistic?”
Meg says “they’re on the right track” and recites talking points on welfare, pensions and government efficiency, once again claims she can cut $15 billion with little impact.
Jerry: “A long time ago I said government was facing an era of limits and, boy, people didn’t like that” but it’s true, he said.
Q3: Should we look at changing Prop. 13 as a key to reform?
Meg: “Proposition 13 is absolutely essential to the future of California.” Says one of the reasons she’s running is to protect Prop. 13. “Only way to increase revenues is to create jobs.” She sounds sharp and very specific.
Jerry: “There’s no sacred cows over the long term.” I once opposed 13 and then I made it work. Once again plugs Howard J’s endorsement of him. Brown says it’s a “myth” that homeowners are paying more than business.
Says the big problem with Prop. 13 is that in implementing Legislature moved too much power to Sacramento. Says one thing he wouldn’t do is cut the capital gains tax like Meg.
Meg gets a rebuttal and argues that cutting capital gains will create jobs. Jerry rebuts that 82% of the savings would go to people making $500K or more.
First great moment: Asks Meg directly how much she would make personally on such a tax cut. She says she’s “an investor” who would benefit along with “job creators.” She bashes Jerry saying he’s responsible, as a professional politician, for running down the economy over decades.
Jerry says her statements are “demonstrably untrue” and quotes San Jose Mercury News endorsement. Notes that there have been three GOP governors since him. Meg says that it’s “a classic politicians answer” – it’s “a half answer.”
Tom asks about the budget.
Notes Jerry has said “the process is the plan” and asks him to deny that it will be just more of the same, like the 100-day late budget just completed.
Jerry says it’s different because he’s done this before and can make it work by starting earlier and bringing all the stakeholders. We’ve heard this all before.
Tom to Meg: What alterations would you make in existing budget for 100 days?
Meg: Jerry did say “the process is the plan” and if you liked the process, you’ll like his plan. Gets into Jerry face about his promise to cut governor’s budget: “Do you know how much the governor’s budget is?” She cuts off his answer and says it’s $18 million and “if that’s your plan we’re in trouble.”
Good round by Meg. Jerry says “you’ve got to get the Legislature on board or nothing happens.” Says Meg doesn’t have a plan, doesn’t detail $15B in cuts or 40K layoffs.
Brokaw: What about the 100,000 lbs gorilla – underfunded pension system?
Brown says it has to be a two-tier system, credits Arnold for getting a good start on it. “A knowledgeable governor can get the compromise you need.”
? to Meg: What about existing pensioners? Meg says Jerry is “do what I say, not what I do” and hits Jerry over record in Oakland. “If we do not resolve this pension issue, California is going to run out of money.”
New employees have to come in under a different deal. BUT: law enforcement should get a special deal and stay on defined benefit plan unlike everyone else who should be moved to 401(k) program.
Brokaw pounces on that and cites extravagant pensions for L.A. cops, noting that some of them are higher than retired Army generals. Here’s the difference between me and Jerry Brown: he’ll owe his election to the unions that have been attacking me; I’ll be independent because I paid for my own campaign. She didn’t answer the question.
Jerry all defensive about her comments about Oakland record and dithers about that. Says the elephant in the room is that she would exempt law enforcement. Meg says she’s not exempting law enforcement because she’s changing age of retirement, contribution.
Here it comes: Brokaw raises the “whore” comment: “We’ve heard no outrage from you” about this.
Brown said it was a private conversation. Meg and he face to face: You’re defending your campaign against a slur on me. Brown cites fact from Calbuzz story about Pete Wilson calling Congress “whores.” She tut-tuts that it’s not the same thing. He reaffirms his apology “I’m sorry.”
She says she got the endorsement not because of pension but because she’s tougher on crime, death penalty, etc. Jerry says he has more law enforcement endorsements and he has done dozens of death penalty cases.
Tom on AB32 and Prop. 23: Do you really think it’s going to kill jobs, despite what George Schultz, a great American says.
Meg says she wants to “freeze it, then fix it.” She thinks a one-year moratorium would be best: “We can be green and still smart” and first priority has to be keeping jobs we have instead of focusing on creating a small number of green jobs.
Brown says problem is “start stop” which creates uncertainty for investors. “The people who are crying are two big oil companies from Texas and one petrochemical conglomerate from the Midwest.”
Lots of audience applause, hooting and yelling.
Meg talks over Brokaw and says “what’s wrong with taking a break” on AB32? ”
Bushwah says Brown: there’s no evidence that this going to hurt 90% of existing jobs; we need to stimulate green industry.
Brokaw: What’s the role of the CTA?
Jerry: It’s a very important role. “You can’t go to war” with people who have to be part of the solution.
Meg: She’s still back on AB32. “Jerry Brown needs to get out and campaign more.” Says that the “bosses of the California Teachers Association” are a big part of the crisis in public schools. “We have to make radical changes.”
Brokaw: You’re spending a lot of dough but why didn’t you vote? Is there something else you might have done to benefit the state we don’t know about?
Meg repeats her rote apology for voting. Every candidate is a package of strengths and weaknesses. But spending my own money is a really, really good thing because otherwise “all the union bosses will collect the IOUs” for supporting Jerry campaign. “Of course Griff and I have a foundation.” Of course.
“This was always supposed to be a citizen democracy.”
Jerry: My entire campaign has been supported by many business and many ordinary citizens. She’s raised $30 million from people who will benefit directly from her “key economic plan” which will “take money from schools and invest in her friends.”
Talks about his work in charter schools and says that’s fine what we have to do is focus on the public education system. Push political power down to local level.
Meg says “Mr. Brown just said something he knows it’s not true” and she never said she wanted to keep money from schools.
Brokaw: Let’s go back to immigration. Recalls Meg spine of steel comments and says if you couldn’t figure it out how is anyone else supposed to.
Firing Nicky “broke my heart” (wonder what it did to Nicky?) but we really need an e-verify system. We need more infra red and motion sensor technology on the border. “I’ve been very clear from the beginning that I don’t think the Arizona plan is right for California.”
Brokaw to Jerry: You’re the top cop – why shouldn’t businesses be held responsible? Krusty says they should but it’s a federal problem but he’s worked with the fed through AG office.
The big problem is we have millions of people “in the shadows” and we need a comprehensive plan that includes a path to citizenship. She doesn’t. We need to think about immigrants as people. “And by the way…it’s a sorry tale” but “but after nine years of working for her why didn’t she get her (housekeeper) a lawyer?” Meg looks major pissed.
Tom asks Jerry why he hasn’t done anything about murderous drug dealing. He says he has.
Tom asks Meg: You’re opposed to Prop. 19 – what’s wrong with it being controlled, and administered by the state? She’s “firmly opposed” because “it’s not the right thing.”
And another thing: JB says he’s tough on drug dealers but she got the endorsement of a narcotics officers association. “Jerry Brown has been soft on crime for 40 years.” Rose Bird fought against all 64 death penalty cases that came her way. Look at my front-line cop organizations endorsements.
Brokaw to Meg: How important is Prop. 8? I’m running for governor to advance my talking points. But I’m against gay marriage. What is the responsibility of the chief law enforcement – he needs to defend that lawsuit on appeals. “It’s really dangerous” for him to make a decision on what part of the constitution he will defend and what part he won’t.
JB: I’m following precedent about an earlier racial discrimination.
Back to crime, stumbles and says, “I’ve got the police chiefs in my back…I’m got the police chiefs backing me.”
Meg laughs a really scary laugh and says, “I think Jerry was saying he’s got the police chiefs in his back pocket.”
“Sometimes, unaccustomed as I am to politics,” I misspeak.
Tom: Jerry what do you think of Obama? He’s terrific and I look forward to him coming to campaign for me.
Meg, how about that Sarah Palin? Meg says “I’ve supported other candidates” for president. And another thing: Jerry Brown is a major tool of unions – keeps talking while Brokaw tells her her time is up.
Brokaw: What about relaxing the two-thirds vote for the budget – Prop. 25. Meg doesn’t answer but says she supports a two-year budget plan. Jerry says he backs relaxing two-thirds for budget not for two-thirds.
Jerry gets last word saying unions, business, they’re all part of the process.
“I’ve been in the kitchen, I know what it is to say yes, and what it is to say no. She’s been in the bleachers, working for an internet company.”
Press conferences: Meg’s on first. She thought she did a great job. “I couldn’t have been more pleased with the way things went.”
Tough question on what is your record on drug enforcement – whatrecord do you have? I meant my policies, if I said me record, I misspoke.b
She was “stunned by Jerry Brown’s insensitivity” to use of word “whore” which is very offensive to Californians especially women.
Q: How was Brown campaign use of “whore” different than Wilson’s reference to “whores” in Congress. Completely different. How is it different? Completely different.
Q: I watched debate with Latinos and they don’t like your handling of the Nicky Diaz matter – is that over. “Absolutely.” It’s all Gloria Allred’s fault and Latinos care about a lot of other stuff that I talk about.
8:06 p.m. Brown is here. “Very spirited” debate. He’s standing in front of the podium instead of behind. He says biggest issue was her lack of answer on how much capital gains cut will benefit her personally. “I intend to get an answer to that” before election.
Brown asked about “whore.” I’ve apologized, I apologized again tonight” and I have nothing more to say about it.
And anyway, he rants, she should apologize for how she treated her maid especially about saying she stole the mail.