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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.