No Real Surprises — Or Knockouts — in Gubernatorial Debate

Mondavi Center, University of California at Davis — The two gubernatorial candidates met for the first time September 28 and echoed their respective campaign themes — neither scoring a knockout punch.

Overall, Republican Meg Whitman stuck tenaciously to her themes, staying on-script and offering little detail as to what she would do as governor.

“I come from the real world where you actually have to get things done,” she said, labeling Brown a  “career politician,” who’s soft-on-crime and beholden to labor unions.

“I thought I got across my points. I thought the contrast was exactly as I’d hoped I would,” Whitman said at a brief press conference after the one-hour debate.

Democrat Jerry Brown touted his previous experience as governor more than 30 years, as mayor of Oakland and, currently Attorney General.

“I know how to do it. I have the willpower and the independence,” Brown said in response to the first question about balancing the state’s budget.

He was critical of Whitman’s proposal to eliminate the  state’s capital gains tax, saying it would benefit Whitman and other “millionaires and billionaires.”

Brown said the tax cut would cost the state’s general fund $5 billion, half of which would otherwise go to public schools. Whitman didn’t tout the proposal or defend it from Brown’s attacks.

Feisty, at times garrulous, Brown seemed far less scripted.

At one point, he assured the audience he wouldn’t run for president because of his age — he’s 72 — and his marriage. He goes home at night now, he said, rather than closing down bars when he was last in Sacramento  years ago.

“Helluva an ad,” he said in defense of his campaign ad showing Whitman’s nose growing. Whitman had the last word in an exchange about job creation in which Brown said he would focus on creating more “green” jobs.

“Three percent of the jobs come from green jobs, 97 percent come from the rest of the economy,” Whitman countered.

(Editor’s Note: Her estimate is a little low — but not much. “Green” jobs represent 3.8 percent of California’s 13.8 million-person workforce, according to preliminary results of a recent state survey conducted by the Employment Development Department.)

Many times, Whitman sounded points she’s made throughout her campaign sticking largely the general promises and attacks of Brown in her campaign commercials.

“We have to challenge the status quo in Sacramento,” Whitman said, as she has for months. “I have put my own money into this campaign. (That) gives me the independece to go to Sacramento not beholden to the special interests. I will not owe anything to anyone. I will do what’s right for the people of California.”

Elsewhere: “We need a  governor to get California back to work.”

And: “I will be a tough-on-crime governor.”

Her rhetoric — in the debate and throughout her campaign — is reminiscent of that used by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his campaign for governor in 2003: All that’s needed in Sacramento is a change in leadership.

Brown raised that twice, contrasting Whitman’s lack of experience with his “know-how.” And, while not mentioning Schwarzenegger by name, Brown noted that the last time Californians elected someone political inexperienced to lead the state he were “flummoxed.”

Although both candidates claimed they had detailed plans to create more jobs, the panel of questioners asked in vain for more specifics on several occasions.

Throughout the debate, Brown staffers wound their way through the long tables of reporters watching the debate on a large screen handing out a series of sheets either critical of Whitman’s positions on water and illegal immigration or defending Brown, a death penalty opponent, on his handling of capital punishment.

Ironically, given Brown’s voicing of support for AB 32, California’s landmark greenhouse gas reduction law, and his pledge to increase green jobs — the handouts were one-sided.

A final 11-page critique of her capital gains tax proposal was double-sided, however.


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