Two of the three GOP wannabe governors debated the state’s fiscal woes in Orange County last night, a genteel event highlighted by Steve Poizner channeling Maxwell Smart, Tom Campbell imitating Calvin Coolidge, and Meg Whitman doing Houdini.
The debate, put on by Brandman University with a big assist from Twitter, marked the fourth consecutive time in the campaign that the front-running Whitman has ducked a face-to-face-to face confrontation with her GOP rivals, as her campaign handlers told event organizers, according to one, that Her Megness was preparing “for an upcoming debate in March” instead.
Really? March? Really?
Putting aside the fact that four and a half months is one helluva’ lot of debate prep, whatever happened to eMeg’s breezy assurance of last May about meeting Poizner for “three debates in the fall in different parts of the state on a far more wide range of subjects”? By our count, that’s four lies in one sentence, girlfriend: Let’s roll the You Tube tape.
Without Whitman to contend with, Campbell and Poizner engaged in a friendly series of pretty substantive and fairly specific exchanges on issues, ranging from tax cuts – Poizner wants big ones right away while Campbell wants to cut more spending first – to their mutual dislike of public employee unions – “When the economy goes down (government workers) don’t feel the same pain,” Poizner claimed – and immigration – Campbell had the guts to blame business and employers as much as the illegals they hire, while Poizner merely pandered by vowing to send the National Guard, the CHP and “if that doesn’t work, I’ll send Dan Walters” to the border. Yes, he actually said that.
Maybe it’s because we kept wandering away from the web cast to check on Game 1 of Philles and Yankees, but the Calbuzz Senior Content Team thought the most memorable moments of the evening were: 1) when Campbell cheerfully compared his budget strategy to that of the pre-presidential Calvin Coolidge – “Coolidge was a great governor of Massachusetts,” he said (Who knew?) and 2) when Poizner went all black bag deep cover on us about his service as a White House Fellow in the months following 9/11 – “I had a security clearance way above top secret,” he said, “I can’t even talk about most of the things I worked on” (Steve Poizner, international man of mystery).
Fortunately for Calbuzz readers, Heather Reger actually covered the event for us. Here’s some on the scene observations from Heather:
War over drugs: The only semi-tense moment of the evening came when Campbell and Poizner were asked whether they would support initiatives, now being circulated, that call for the legalization of marijuana.
Campbell, who as a state senator authored a bill to legalize medical marijuana, snapped that he was absolutely opposed to it, then got one of the better laughs of the evening by saying, “How can we generate revenue when this isn’t even legal federally? It would be like legalizing moonshine in Kentucky.”
But when he added that there is evidence to show major meth dealers are also distributing marijuana, Poizner jumped on him:
“Tom, you used to be in favor of legalizing drugs,” he said.
“No, I was not,” Campbell answered.
“I’d like some more clarification on your drug legalization views,” Poizner pressed.
“I am for the legalization of medicinal marijuana,” said Campbell. “That’s it.”
Poizner’s attack was based on statements by Campbell in his failed 2000 Senate bid against Dianne Feinstein. Vainly trying to get traction against the incumbent, Campbell declared war on the federal war on drugs, which Difi strongly backed. He also embraced Proposition 36, a failed ballot initiative that called for diverting non-violent drug offenders into drug treatment centers instead of prison. Although Campbell’s views on drug laws were considerably more liberal than his Democratic opponent, Poizner over-reached by accusing him of wanting to legalize drugs.
A non-minority minority party: One of the more notable images of the night wasn’t the candidates on stage, but the people in the audience. Or actually those who weren’t in the audience: Nearly all of the more than 200 people on hand were white, not a good sign for a shrinking party at a time when ethnic minorities form a majority of California’s population.
Asked about the crowd after the debate, Campbell answered in Spanish, and said he had nothing to do with the invite list, but felt that Latinos would be an instrumental part of his campaign. Poizner wasn’t available to answer the question because he didn’t stick around to meet with reporters after the event.
Where’s Whitman? Neither candidate made a direct comment about eMeg’s absence during the debate. Poizner came the closest when he said, “Frankly, I don’t think we need any more celebrity candidates who hire armies of political consultants to tell them what they think.”
Afterwards, Jarrod Agen, communications director for Poizner’, noted Whitman’s campaign event at the border today, and said, “I heard she spent today at the border…probably running away from the debate.” Campbell wouldn’t bite on a question about Whitman.
Clothes make the man: The two made very different fashion statements, with Campbell wearing his traditional, button-down Brooks Brothers duds, while Poizner came on stage with a coat, no-tie and dark blue shirt full Silicon Valley look.
First I look at the purse: Campbell made fun of his own status as the only Republican running who’s not independently wealthy, calling himself “the Motel 6 candidate.”
Mocking Poizner and the absent Whitman for their ability to pour millions of their own money into the race, Campbell said, “I promise not to use the extensive personal wealth of the Campbell family” and suggested Poizner take the same pledge.
“That’s not going to happen,” the Insurance Comsissioner answered, without missing a beat.
Calbuzz Orange Count Bureau Chief Heather Reger is former editor in chief of The Panther at Chapman University.