I’ll be doing some live blog posts during the debate between Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown at UC Davis. The event is their first meet up and certainly one of the most anticipated debates of all of this year’s midterm contenders.
6:05 p.m.: On the budget mess, Whitman says the process needs to start earlier, after rattling off her campaigns key talking points in creating jobs. Brown tries to show how conservative he is fiscally, and vows to “lead by example” and cut 15 to 20% out of the governor’s office, then turn the legislature. “Don’t believe it when people say they have cut to the bone,” he says.
6:08: Whitman makes first hit on Brown as beholden to the public employee unions, which has been a key line of attack. Brown makes a dig at Whitman that she’s made that attack on him “ad nauseum” in ads. Then he slams her as a billionaire, a class that has felt little of the recession.
6:13: The return of Rose Bird: Whitman notes Jerry Brown’s support of Bird, the controversial former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, and a fierce opponent of the death penalty, to show that he is soft on crime. Brown notes his support of police officers associations.
6:15: Whitman calls on eliminating the “factory tax” as a way to become competitive with neighboring states, and warns that Texas Gov. Rick Perry told her that he likes to come to California for “hunting” — i.e. poaching businesses.
Brown: “She has the values of Wall Street…and if you just follow the George Bush playbook, things will be fine.” He infers that Whitman in favor of measures that will benefit billionaires like her — a reference to her proposal to cut the capital gains tax. He then makes a plea for investing in green jobs to create a new California industry. “I did it before and I will do it again,” he says.
6:20: Responding to criticism of his pension after years in public office, Brown quips, “If you elect me as governor I won’t collect until I am 76. If I am reelected, I won’t collect until I am 80. I am the best pension buy in the pension system.”
Whitman says that “you can’t be beholden to the public employees.” She says that the retirement age should rise from 55 to 65 and vesting periods have to be raised. “This will not be easy. The next governor of California will have to have a spine of steel.”
Brown says, “This is a little like the pot calling the kettle black.” He refers again to her capital gains tax cut and her support by big campaign contributors.
6:26: Whitman on her scant voting record, “No one is more embarrassed by it than me.” she once again apologizes for it. She argues that the huge sums in her campaign are a positive for her. “I won’t owe anything to anyone.”
6:27: Asked what assurances he can give that he will focus on the job, and not make a run for president like he did in his previous tenure, Brown says, “Age.” He then makes the link of Whitman and Schwarzenegger, noting that both ran on their private sector experience. He didn’t say it, but Schwarzenegger is currently one of the most unpopular governors in the country.
6:35: Whitman is asked why her ads are misleading, and she says she doesn’t agree with the premise of the question. But she cuts to the chase and goes right to the ad in question, the one featuring a 1992 clip of Bill Clinton charging that taxes went up during Brown’s tenure during 1975 to 1983. She defends the ad, even though Clinton has disowned his statement back then.
Brown also defends his response, a spot in which Whitman’s nose grows like Pinocchio. “I thought it was a hell of an ad,” he says.
Whitman notes that Brown opposed Proposition 13.
“Yes, I opposed Proposition 13, her campaign chair Pete Wilson also opposed it, and we are now seeing some of the problems with all of the power going up to the capitol and gridlock,” Brown responds. He also notes that after Prop 13 passed, the father of the initiative, Howard Jarvis, did an ad supporting his 1978 campaign.
6:42: Immigration reform: Lots of nuance on this. Brown is in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, but says that those who have committed a crime should face deportation. “Any time one of these people commit a crime, they will be subject to deportation,” he says.
Whitman says she has been “very balanced and very fair about this,” noting her opposition to Prop 187 and the Arizona law, even if she took a harder line at recent efforts at immigration reform and a path to citizenship during the primary.
6:46: Who is beholden to whom? Brown: “The chamber of commerce has a secret slush fund for her to attack me.” Whitman once again says that Brown is beholden to the public employee unions, using the sound-byte ready quote that it would be like putting “Dracula in charge of the blood bank.”
6:53: Water crisis: Brown says “the beneficiary has to pay, not the general taxpayer.”
Whitman says that she was a supporter of the water bond that was defeated. She acknowledges that there was pork, but that you have to be realistic to get things done. “We have a humanitarian crisis going on in the central valley,” she says.
6:57: In closing remarks, Whitman cites her business-like three point plan and vows to keep focus on it. She tries to emphasize her fresh approach to California and strikes a note of inspiration about the state’s residents and their entrepreneurial spirit.
Brown doubles down on being a career politician. “I have got the know how, the experience and at this point in my life I have the independence,” he says.
Surprises: As expected, Whitman went after Brown as a career politician, to the point of even turning her massive campaign outlay on its head and noting that she won’t be beholden to anyone in the way that her opponent will owe public employees unions. But given the blitzkrieg of her ads across the state, she was not nearly as hard hitting as expected, projecting a softer image and certainly downplaying the fact that she is a Republican. I don’t even think she mentioned it at all. Instead, she began many sentences with, “Here’s my plan.” She looked nervous at times, recited from her campaign script and grabbed for somewhat contrived snappy lines, but certainly did not stumble and held her own.
Brown has a tendency to drift, and at points he was on the verge of doing that, but he showed a genuine vigor that belied his age or the image of a life-long bureaucrat. He is no Gray Davis. His humor was off the cuff but not a gaffe. He tried to go after Whitman as a billionaire beholden to Wall Street, but that populist message was somewhat muted. Neither candidate offered that convincing a case of solving the state’s budget crisis, but he tried to project an independent streak that bordered on being a tightwad. “Nobody’s tougher with a buck than I am.”
Update: Variety’s Brian Lowry reviewed the debate, and says that Whitman came across as the “frankencandidate,” with strategically placed smile, while Brown was self-serving but genuine.
He writes, “Neither choice speaks very well of the current
state of politics, but the televised debate was illuminating. Jerry Brown didn’t look old or tired. And Meg Whitman looked like the
unsavory byproduct of a system where it’s possible to string a
candidacy together entirely out of dollar bills. “I don’t think you can buy elections,” Whitman said near the debate’s
end. She had better hope that she’s wrong.”