First Governor’s Debate Play-by-Play

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Joe Stiglich

Tonight is the first of three scheduled debates between the two leading candidates for governor: the Democrat Jerry Brown and the Republican Meg Whitman. If the campaign so far is any guide, we weren't looking for any realistic ideas or much inspiration. But as a political matter, it's an interesting debate, because polls show the race as a toss-up.

6:02 p.m... and we're off...

Whitman hitting talking points in first answer while ignoring question about what she would do about the budget. Whitman asks if anyone ever imagined that California would have one of America's highest unemployment rates. News flash to Meg. California has had a much higher than national average unemployment rate for much of its history--because of all the job seekers coming from elsewhere.

Brown seems nervous, and is meandering and doesn't appear as sharp as Whitman in the first answer. And he's quickly into the weeds, talking about authorizations and salaries.

On substance, Brown and Whitman say starting earlier on the budget is part of the solution. Which is a dodge. Feb. 2009 budget agreement was reached four months earlier -- and didn't balance the budget....

6:07 p.m....

Whitman takes first shot at Brown, saying he'll do the bidding of unions. Brown doesn't answer directly, but instead attacks Whitman for supporting a capital gains tax cut that will enrich millionaires and billionaires like her.

6:08 p.m. Kevin Riggs, one of the media questioners, references a possible death penalty case and asks if it takes too long to put people to death...

Brown says yes, while noting his personal opposition to the death penalty.... Whitman uses the question to attack Brown as "liberal on crime." She notes his appointment of Chief Justice Rose Bird, who opposed death penalty and was removed from office by the voters in 1986...Brown's answer to this is off point, something about Eisenhower's appointment of Earl Warren. He then argues that the police chiefs are for him and that he was tough on crime in Oakland. Whitman counters that the record of crime in Oakland isn't very good-she says homicide doubled in Oakland (that's a misstatement of figures, though there was a spike).

It's a frustrating question, since there's a better question, given the costs of administering the death penalty and the state's budget crisis: wouldn't it make sense for cash-strapped California to save money by getting rid of the death penalty? (Blogger note: I personally support the death penalty).

6:13 p.m. Question is about jobs, and outsourcing of jobs. Whitman talks about targeted tax cuts, including getting rid of fees on new businesses. Which is nice, but how does a cash-strapped state pay for it? Whitman doesn't say.

...Whitman and Brown both stammering a bit. Are they nervous or just inarticulate?

Folo-up as to how she will pay for tax cuts: Whitman goes into deep voo-doo economics here, saying that the tax cuts will create more business activity and boost taxes.

Brown gets a much less specific question: how would you create jobs? But he's 30 seconds in and hasn't explained how. 45 seconds in. He's still talking about what he won't do... And finally we get it--invest in clean energy. That's nice, but in a state with more than 2 million jobless, that's only a very small part of the solution. Now, he's on to cutting red tape and getting people to move back into Oakland.

Good folo from Mariann Russ of Capital Public Radio asking about green jobs and whether there are enough of them: Brown bobs and weaves but doesn't answer.

Whitman jumps in with a strong answer -- that only 3 percent of jobs are green jobs. And she talks about AB 32. And for the second time, Whitman shills for Texas and its ability to recruit industries from California.

6:19 p.m. Amy Chance of the Sacramento Bee asks Brown how he can reform pensions since he's a beneficiary.

Jerry has a great answer and his best moment of the night (best for either candidate): I've been great for pension system by working into his 70s. if everyone worked as long as he did, the pension system would be overfunded by 50 percent. Best line: "If you elect me, I won't collect til I'm 76... I'm the best pension buy California has ever seen."

Whitman is asked how she would negotiate with labor unions, since she had no experience with this as CEO of non-union eBay. Whitman also says that she'd be freer to negotiate with unions, presumably because of union support for Brown.

Folo up from Chance, asking for specifics about how she would negotiate with unions. Whitman says, first, negotiations. Second, "we may have to go to the ballot" with an initiative on pensions.

Brown in folo goes after Whitman on contributions for raising $25 million from rich people. (He appears to be responding to unions, but it's unclear). Brown says he vetoed union pay raises and will do it again.

A PATTERN has been established: Whitman ignores the questions. Brown is often hard to understand.

6:25 p.m. Question about her voting record and whether it should disqualify her from office.

Whitman apologizes for her failure to vote for most of her adult life. And quickly pivots to talking points about the need for status quo. Whitman answers Brown about raising money by pointing out that she's putting her own money and that she goes to Sacramento "not beholden to the special interests".

Riggs asks if he would focus on the job and not run for president: Brown said his age would be insurance that he would be focused on the job and not run for president. Brown quipped, in another great line: "If I was younger, you know I'd be running again." He also said he had a wife to go home to -- and wouldn't "close down the bars in Sacramento" as he had before.

There's an exchange here about experience and change. Brown says that the state tried someone from the private sector without experience -- Schwarzenegger -- and it didn't work. Whitman attacks Brown's record, suggesting his experience isn't worth much.

6:29 p.m.

A NOTE ON PRESENCE: Whitman and Brown both look good--they should thank their stylists. Whitman seems very steady and doesn't move. Brown is moving all over the screen.

Question is from UC Davis student, relayed by journalist panel: would you roll back all the cuts and tuition increases?
Brown: No, at least not in his first year. The budget deficit is too big. He pivots to point out that he went to UC (Berkeley) and so did his mother. It's an honest but uninspiring answer: I'd love to fix this, but there's no money.

Whitman calls the UC cuts heartbreaking. She then repeats her radio ad, saying she'd cut the rest of the government to put $1 billion in UC. That money, she says, would come from welfare. Unfortunately, there's not the money in welfare programs to do that, as I previously explained here.

6:34 p.m.

Amy Chance of the Sacramento Bee notes that fact-checking organizations say her ads and claims are bogus. How can voters trust her?

Whitman says she doesn't accept the premise. And she defends one ad that was wrong -- by making claims that Brown raised taxes as governor, when in fact, taxes went down under Brown (and Brown himself cut taxes). "I stand by the ads--they are an accurate record."

Chance asks Brown about his ad showing Whitman as Pinnochio. Brown jumps in before Chance gets out the question. "I think that's a hell of an ad." Should candidates say "hell"?

Brown then somehow pivots into tax breaks in Whitman's plan. And he then rebuts Whitman charges about his Oakland record from two questions ago.

Ugh. This debate is not particularly easy to follow.

Whitman now is back on her ad, saying Brown opposed Prop 13.

Whitman then pivots to an attack on Brown for not delivering on promises he made while running for mayor of Oakland to transform Oakland's schools. Brown then defends this.

Advantage, Whitman, on this. She turned a discussion that started with a question accusing her of being a liar into an exchange in which Brown is on the defensive, talking about problems with his record as mayor and as governor.

6:42 p.m.

A clear difference on immigration. The question, from TV journalist Kevin Riggs, is whether there are benefits to immigration. Brown says he is for a path to legalization for unauthorized immigrants. Whitman says she's against, but tries to say she's pro-immigration. Against Prop 187 and against Arizona law, SB 1070, that authorizes police action against illegal immigrants.

6:44 p.m.

Marianne Russ asks Whitman to address criticism that she's trying to buy the election (and if she's learned anything about campaign finance).

Whitman has a good answer: unions have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the last five years (She doesn't mention that much of that was in 2005, during Schwarzenegger's special election. She's personally outspent unions more than six-to-one). She says that voters are smart and you can't buy elections in California. She pivots from there to talking points. She ignores the campaign finance question, even after a folo.

Russ asks Brown how he can remain independent given his labor support. Brown says he was "legendary for my frugality." And he said he's supported for two-tiered pensions. And he pivots from there away from the question and talks about business fraud. Abuses of Wall Street. And then he talks about his respect of police and fire. And his opponent's inexperience...

And I'm lost.

Then Brown says: "the chamber of commerce has a secret slush fund" to run ads against Brown. (This appears to be a reference to business-backed independent expenditures ads attacking him).

Whitman finds it "amazing" that Brown is distancing himself from labor unions -- because they've been "joined at the hip".

O and finally a Whitman one -liner. Putting Brown in charge of labor issues and negotiations "is like putting Count Dracula in charge of the blood bank."

Not a bad line, but not exactly true. Brown has a complicated relationship with labor unions -- he's hardly their dream candidate. Brown notes that teachers unions and others opposed him in the Democratic primary for attorney general in 2006.

Brown tries to say that Whitman will bend to pressure because she carved out an exception for law enforcement on her pension reform proposal. (At least, I think that's what he was saying--he's a little hard to follow).

6;52 p.m.

A water question from Amy Chance of the Sac Bee to Brown... Is he still for a peripheral canal? That's a term many Californians don't know. It's about a canal that brings water from the Sacramento River around the delta and into aqueducts that large swaths of the state depend upon. Brown expresses support for anything that works in water, and expresses no regret for pursuing such a canal in 1981 (voters overturned his peripheral canal plan in a 1982 referendum). Whitman gives a plain answer about water efficiency.

6:55 p.m. Closing statements. Whitman talks about independence, quotes a bit from her book "The Power of Many."

Brown: "I did think long and hard about whether I should run for governor again." Which sounds intriguiing...until he retreats into reciting his resume. He hits Whitman again for cutting taxes for the rich (via capital gains tax cuts).

And it's over. 56 minutes in.


Whitman may have won for those who watched the whole debate. She was clearer and easier to understand, and a fairly effective presence.

But Brown may win the war of sound bytes, which is how most Californians (few of whom watch the debate) will learn about the debate. Brown had the best, most TV-ready lines of the evening.

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