Tonight's gubernatorial debate on NBC affiliates around the state starts at 6:30 p.m. Tom Brokaw is moderating. He doesn't live in California, so here are a few California specific questions he might ask -- with the goal of forcing the candidates to do more than just attack each other.
One potential strategy for Brokaw. Ask the two candidates about areas upon which they agree. There are many such subjects -- and on many of them the shared Brown-Whitman position is a cautious stance that allows the candidates to avoid hard choices. Why not press them?
Here are five such questions:
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1. Each of you says that the legislature should pay some kind of penalty for not passing a budget on time. If your pay as governor -- or in your case, Meg -- in the private sector -- was tied to doing something on time, would it cause you to agree to a budget or particular bill even if you felt that budget or bill was wrong? And if you're answer is no, why do you think this would work with legislators?
2. Gov. Brown, your pension plan by all accounts doesn't go very far and relies on the markets coming back. Ms. Whitman, your pension plan exempts the public safety employees engaged in some of the worst pension abuses. Why are both of you such wimps on this issue? Isn't it purely a lack of political courage?
3. You each say you want to spend more money on education, but you each say it's more important to make cuts. Why isn't education, given its importance to the state, your highest priority?
4. You each have opposed broad constitutional reform, despite bipartisan agreement that the state's system doesn't work. Are each of you closing that door entirely? Or are you open to pursuing such reforms if, after you've spent some time in office, you find that the state's governing system is too limiting?
5. Each of you is married to a very smart, successful professional -- the surgeon Griff Harsh in your case Meg; the attorney Anne Gust in your case Jerry Brown. And if reports are true that Anne Gust was the person who called Whitman a "whore" in a private conversation, then it's clear that each of your spouses has said things that have caused trouble for you in this campaign (Griff, you'll remember, indicated that you had no notice of a problem with your housekeeper's Social Security number, when in fact you got a letter).
Neither of you has done very well at protecting them in these controversies. Which begs the questions: having any problems at home lately?