Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Meg-Jerry, Round One

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The following are real-time observations of Tuesday’s night’s Brown-Whitman debate. I’ve added some analysis at the end of this post. — BW  

— Day 90 of the budget impasse and a debate a short drive over the causeway from the State Capitol spawns the first and most obvious question: how to get the state working. The questioner, Sacramento Bee columnist Amy Chance, wants to hear process. Whitman talks economics — lowering unemployment, streamlining government, welfare and pension reform. Jerry’s turn: long preamble, goes back to his days as governor, say he’ll bring lawmakers together in November, will cut Gov’s Office budget, then agencies’.  

Is Jerry always this amped?  

3-minute mark: Meg mentions unions; Jerry mentions seeing Meg ads ad nauseum.  

— Second question and we’re into the present death-penalty controversy. I hope the rest of this debate isn’t as predictable. Jerry pledges to “faithfully” carry out executions; Meg sidetracks into Jerry’s crime record, plays the Rose Bird card. Two questions, two attacks. She’s more aggressive than I imagined. Jerry mentions Eisenhower and Earl Warren. Yikes, we’re even further back in time? Isn’t this debate about the future?  

Whitman: "the power of many"

— Third question: Whitman asked about job-creation specifics. She wants to create manufacturing jobs, eliminate the start-up tax, streamline regulations. Sounds a lot like Pete Wilson’s approach in the early ’90s. Brown links her to Wall Street and Bushonomics; declares himself green-tech and AB 32 defender.  

Noticing Whitman’s not taking notes, not looking at Jerry . . .  

— Fourth question:  And it’s a good one — Brown’s asked how can he be serious about pension reform when he benefits from the same system? Good response: laughs it off by saying he won’t get one until he’s 76 (if elected) or 80 (if re-elected). Whitman’s not laughing: she proposes raising retirement age from 55 to 65, increasing vesting period, new state workers getting a different arrangement. Makes sense — and says she’ll go to the ballot if need be (pretty much a given) if and when the unions play ball.  

Jerry takes a swipe at Whitman’s wealthy donors. Like he wouldn’t welcome their support and $$ . . .  

Fifth question: Meg’s voting record. Turns it back to her candidacy being free of special interest obligations.  

Jerry doesn’t pounce. Is this still an issue . . .?  

— Sixth question: Jerry’s eastward wanderlust (two presidential runs as guv; a third as an ex-guv). Says he’s too old, too married, too serious about California to do it again. Stops mid-thought to scratch his head — rarely is a debater this animated.  Meg dumps on his Oakland mayoral record. Jerry rebuts with spendthrift record from gubernatorial days.  

Jess Unruh.  Seriously? Lots of California trivia in play tonight.  

Brown: "legendary for my frugality"

— Seventh question: would Brown roll back college fee increases and spending cuts? Not with a $19 billion deficit, he says (kudos for that rare display of candor). Maybe his best answer of the night, pretty much b.s.-free. Whitman goes back to streamlining government, offers the hypothetical of giving university chancellors more spending options, but doesn’t really get into a detailed higher-ed vision. Not her best answer of the evening, imo.  

Hey, candidates, don’t be ashamed to mention Stanford, Caltech and USC!  

Eighth question: Amy Chance accuses Whitman of running dishonest ads. Whitman revisits the Bill Clinton ad and its subsequent controversy. Smart move — you know that ad got under Jerry’s skin. Media bias moment: a CTA ad, on Brown’s behalf, had to be re-edited before stations would run it; Whitman’s campaign claims a union ad run on Spanish-speaking tv, is dishonest. No mention of either.  

How’d we get into Proposition 13 . . .? California 2010, “That ’70s Show”!  

Ninth question: Jerry says he favors a path to citizenship, as part of comprehensive immigration reform. Whitman doesn’t favor the path –wants to clamp down on the border . . . but distances herself from the Arizona’s controversial law. Same thing she said during the primary after being pressured by Steve Poizner. Bad moment for the debate panel: to me, the most interesting illegal-immigration flash point is the current policy of allowing undocumented students to attend California’s public universities.    

Biggest policy difference tonight so far  (and only 15 minutes to go) . . . curious that illegal immigration is so low-profile in this contest  

Tenth question: is Whitman buying this election? Softball time! She mentions union spending in recent election cycles, gets back to safe ground: jobs, government efficiency, education reform (note that she calls campaign spending an “investment”). Jerry’s softball: how does he distance himself from union donors? Answer: I’m “legendary for my frugality”. Jerry alludes to a California Chamber of Commerce “slush fund”. Her chance to mention those pro-Brown union ads — and she doesn’t go there. Should she?  

Jerry asks (pointing to Whitman): What About “Business” Over Here”? And here I thought her name was “Margaret” . . .  

Eleventh (and last) question:  water conservation for Northern California and a Peripheral Canal. Jerry wants better management, conveyances, taxpayers shouldn’t pay, and so forth — i.e., very general, not specific. Whitman cites support for the water bond that got punted to 2012 as it was a goner on this year’s ballot, calls it a good blueprint. Conservatives won’t like that.  

Closing statements: Whitman says she believes in the “power of many” (it’s the title of her book). Jerry talks know-how, experience. Translation: older but wiser. Brown says they differ in values, mentioning tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires . . . and AB32.  

And on and on and on he goes . . . don’t think there was a question tonight when Jerry wasn’t cut off by the moderator.  

My take:  

1) This was the first of three scheduled debates. So, for all the talk about high stakes, the stakes really weren’t that high. Ronald Reagan had an awful first debate in 1984, then ended the drama in the second presidential debate with his famous age quip. He went on to win 49 of 50 states. We’ll know more about this race’s outcome after the second and third debates. Well, maybe, if there’s more drama, or somebody slips up.  

2) No knockdowns, no knockouts. Not really any punches landed, for that matter. Both candidates stuck to familiar themes (he’s a failed politician; she’s wealthy and wants to make her rich friends richer). Here’s how I judge it in this Information Age: was there a “YouTube moment” that will haunt either candidate for the remaining five weeks? Answer: not even remotely.  

3) Is it possible to have a debate during which the candidates get to question each other directly? While there was nothing asked tonight that I’d consider a waste of viewers’ time, I’d be shocked if both camps didn’t anticipate everything that came their way. This is not to meant to criticize the good folks who put on this show. But I do believe the media have to try harder to catch a couple of very scripted candidates off guard.      

4) Overall, Whitman was stiffer and more reserved that Brown. He displayed more personality — and more quirkiness, which is a mixed blessing when facing a weary/wary electorate (remember: this is an audition for four years of tough love, not 60 minutes of standup comedy). My guess: the race begins the day-after as it began the day-of: neck-and-neck, no clear frontrunner.  

Oh, in case you’re curious as where the candidates and the truth intersected, here’s the Sacramento Bee’s scorecard.


Written by Bill Whalen

September 29, 2010 at 3:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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