Meg-Jerry, Round Three
Notes taken (in real-time) during Tuesday night’s California gubernatorial debate between Republican Meg Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown.
Tom Brokaw is the ring referee — er, moderator. He’s an East Coaster and, as such, likely has scant knowledge of the California landscape aside from what he reads in The New York Times. Who, do you think, put together his questions? Answer: “several people from D.C.” flew out to help Brokaw, says an NBC news producer, but Brokaw was his own man.
Question One: Calling for shared sacrifice. As citizens of this state, I’m asking you to . . . fill in the blank. Meg goes into “California Dream” mode, cites government we can’t afford, “tough trade-offs” (without going into detail), “we’re going to have to pull together”. Jerry mis-states JFK’s “ask not” passage from his Inaugural Address, calls for voters to think “as Californians first, members of these other categories second”. Again, no details.
Brokaw hurt his ankle (which Meg alluded to)?
Question Two: What’s realistic in terms of dealing with state spending. Meg says she’s identified $15 billion in savings, wants to shrink government. Wants to go after the public-employee pension system, reforming welfare. This is familiar ground for her. Jerry says budget process should begin in November, will take it statewide (consider yourselves warned, if you pride yourself on your safe distance from Sacramento). Attributes “gap” to over-spending, Wall Street meltdown, bad judgment in D.C. Also familiar turf.
Quick check of the Chilean mine drama. Wonder how many Californians believe their state government could pull off this kind of operation?
Question Three: Proposition 13 . . . can we go forward without amending it? Meg wants to “defend” it, cites a widow she met in Diamond Bar as proof of the need to limit property taxes, segues into competitive tax rates to keep jobs in California. Jerry says there are no “sacred cows over the long-term”, but won’t commit to fiddling with Prop 13 on its commercial side, gotta find ways to live within our means, return power to local level. Again, campaign fodder. Meg rebuts after Jerry takes a shot at the wealth class benefitting from her proposed capital-gains tax cut. Jerry makes it personal, asking how much she stands to profit from the cut. Meg returns fire by calling Jerry part of the problem. Another back-and-forth follows — kudos to Tom Brokaw letting the candidates do some open-field running.
Quick check of the baseball playoff game over on TBS. Hard to image we nearly had the St. Petersburg Giants.
Question Four: The “torturous” (Brokaw’s word) 100-days-overdue budget . . . doesn’t the impasse undermine Jerry’s stated budget approach? Jerry once again mentions jump-starting the process in November, 10% cut in governor’s office budget (which is peanuts). Whitman is asked what she’d do in her first 100 days. Whitman smartly pounces on Jerry’s miniscule gov’s office cut. Nice debate prep. Falls back on “fresh approach, different approach” rhetoric, cites Silicon Valley approach to problem-solving.
I wonder what an always amped-up Jerry ingests before these things — coffee, Red Bull, a few dozen sugar cubes . . . ?
Question Five: California compared to Greece for public-pension obligations. Jerry calls for two-tier pension system, more concessions, compromises that actuarial numbers require. Meg goes after Jerry’s record as Oakland mayor — citing big city salaries. Calls for 401k plan for new employees, defined benefits for law enforcement. Nothing new here, by either candidate.
Meg’s long on statistics tonight. Her team must think she needs to show more depth, command of substance.
Question Six: Need for a state law to oversee municipal pensions. Meg says Jerry’s in the pocket of unions (she used the more polite “beholden”). Jerry says her Oakland numbers are wrong, goes after Meg for exempting public safety (which is how we stumbled into that unfortunate “whore” comment and controversy).
Halfway through. Good pace.
Question Seven: Ta-da! As if on cue: we’re now into “Whoregate”. Brokaw asks Jerry why he doesn’t seem upset by the use of the slur. Jerry pushes back hard by calling it an old story, private conversation, maybe not even legal use of conversation. Bad response. A better recovery when Jerry points out that union in question endorsed Meg because, he contends, they figure he’d be tougher on pensions. Meg says no, it’s because she’s tougher on crime. Both candidates citing endorsements — boooring. If you think you’re tougher, give specifics.
Rose Bird. Can’t get through an entire debate without at least one mention.
Question Eight: AB 32 and Proposition 23. Does Meg think George Shultz is wrong? Meg says only 3% of California’s jobs are clean-tech, says she wants to “free it and fix it”, nothing wrong with taking a pause. Jerry says going back on AB 32 will create “regulatory uncertainty”, talks about incentives for alternative fuels, takes a swipe at Texas Big Oil. That sound you here is the left’s base being touched.
Hoover’s Michael Boskin has a great line on the fascination with clean tech: “green isn’t the only color in the Crayola box”.
Question Nine: What’s the role of the teachers’ union in California? Jerry acknowledges the union’s clout, but says you don’t go to war with it — better to work together. Meg calls union bosses part of the problem.
40 minutes down, 20 to go, no mention of Nickygate. I’d have bet money that Gloria Allred would crash this party.
Question Ten: Meg spending $120 million and not voting all those years. Says all candidates have positives and negatives, says her money allows her to be independent (she should say that 120 million times). Jerry goes back to Meg wanting to cut taxes for her wealth friends . . . for seems like the 120-millionth time in this debate. Good example of how politicians try your patience: question about campaign finance turns into a spiel about charter schools.
Getting a queasy feeling. Only 15 minutes remaining. Is Tom gonna . . . ?
Question Eleven: Yup, how can Meg talk tough on illegal immigration and businesses after having unwittingly hired an illegal alien housekeeper herself? Meg repeats that she did everything by the book, still intends to crack down on businesses. Jerry says illegal immigration is a federal responsibility, what will we do with those living “in the shadows”, wants comprehensive reform that has a “human” approach. A knife-in-the-ribs moment: he sticks it to Meg for not hiring a lawyer for her housekeeper.
Meg doesn’t respond to Jerry’s pot-shot. Should she have?
Question Twelve: Why has drug enforcement been a state priority for Brown as AG? Jerry says au contraire (quelle surprise!). Meg the gets asks about marijuana legalization, points out that law enforcement is against it.
At least we’ve moved beyond asking if candidates have smoked dope . . .
Question Thirteen: Finally, a curveball: on a personal level, how much do you care about Proposition 8 (ban on same-sex marriage). Meg defines marriage as hetero- only, blasts Jerry for not defending Prop 8 in court. Jerry says he won’t something “so fundamentally wrong” as Prop 8, which he says violates the 14th Amendment.
Final questions, and not a one so far about Arnold, the guy who’s dominated California politics the last seven years . . .
Question Fourteen: And it’s a wasted one — what does Jerry think of President Obama, and would he welcome him to California? One wonders if Tom knows the Prez is coming here. Brokaw asks Meg about Sarah Palin, she goes all big-tent on him.
That’s so East Coast, to invoke Obama and Palin in a race that’s state-centric . . .
Question Fifteen: Does California need political reform? Answers — yes, and hell yes. Jerry takes a final swipe at Whitman in the bleachers” with her “Internet company”
Meg ads bracket the debate — attack ad to start, positive ad to end it.
1) The liveliest of the three debates, by far. Brokaw did a nice job of letting the candidates interact, without letting things get out of control.
2) This was billed as the first statewide debate in California history. Hard to imagine that the recall didn’t merit this kind of interest.
3) I though Jerry fumbled the “whore” controversy — it looks bad, in the replay, when he gets into legalistics. Then again, I thought she was too passive when Brown made the housekeeper controversy personal, and then some.
4) Let’s see how much the media focus on the “less scripted” Whitman, who seemed far less tentative than in previous encounters.
5) Bottom line: both candidates had solid performances. There was no game-changer. If I had to give an edge, it’s to Whitman. She was more aggressive (and needed to be), while Brown wasn’t so gracefully handling the “whore” controversy (“whore is less”?).
6) What’s left between now and November 2: This election comes down to turnout (Republican organization; Democrats rallying the base), and whether the anticipated GOP “wave” makes it all the way to the Golden State.