California gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown sparred and sniped in their final debate this evening in San Rafael, tossing out less-than-memorable one-liners while outlining their differing policy positions.
The hour-long debate at Dominican University was the third between the two and was moderated by Tom Brokaw. It touched on job creation, taxes, unions, governmental reform, law enforcement and immigration.
There were also questions about the allegation Whitman knowingly employed an undocumented worker, Whitman’s sparse voting record, and the use of the word “whore” by a Brown campaign staffer, allegedly in reference to Whitman.
Recent polls have Brown, the Democratic attorney general and former governor of the state, leading Whitman, a Republican and former eBay CEO, by a small margin in the final weeks leading up to the Nov. 2 election.
Throughout the debate, Whitman held fast to her message about job creation, while Brown talked of returning political power “to the local level.”
Whitman asserted that the California of today is different than the one she moved to 30 years ago–the one that allowed her to rise to a head a successful business–saying, “the California dream is broken.”
“I want to bring that California dream alive,” she said. She said “tough tradeoffs” and “shared sacrifice” were needed.
Brown hammered the billionaire Whitman as a friend of the wealthy and attacked her stance on eliminating the capital gains tax for businesses, but he was on the defensive as Whitman attacked his prior record as governor and his relationships with teacher and public employee unions.
“My track record is creating jobs,” Whitman told Brown. “Your business is politics.”
She then accused Brown of leading California into higher unemployment as governor, a charge Brokaw himself deflected by saying a number of Republican governors oversaw states with higher unemployment at that time.
“We have something called the business cycle,” Brown answered. “We get booms and busts,” he said, adding that he did create new jobs.
Brown argued that if he were elected governor he would start the budget cycle nearly immediately and then “take it on the road” so voters could weigh in.
“I think we can return power to the local level, where people can judge it more quickly,” he said.
He said he would push for a similar approach for empowering individual school districts with decisions about education.
Brown said he would also cut the governor’s budget.
“I don’t have to learn on the job. I’ve done eight budgets,” Brown said.
Whitman responded by saying, “If you think this is working for Californians, then you should elect Jerry Brown.”
Whitman said “a fresh approach” was needed but did not offer many specifics.
“She doesn’t have a detailed plan,” Brown said.
Both agreed reform was needed with the state public pension program, but they differed on how to accomplish it.
Whitman accused Brown of being “beholden to these public employee unions,” while Brown claimed Whitman would exempt police and firefighters from having to contribute their share in the reform.
When Brokaw asked if he was outraged about the use of the word “whore” by a campaign staffer in a recorded phone message, Brown apologized but insisted it was “very hard to detect who it is” on the message.
“It’s unfortunate. I’m sorry it happened, and I apologize,” Brown said.
But that was not enough for Whitman, who called it a slur that was “deeply offensive to women” and a personal attack on her.
“It’s not befitting of the office you’re running for,” she said.
Brown retorted, “That does not represent anything other than things that happen in a campaign.”
Brokaw asked Whitman how she could claim she was so interested in the welfare of California despite a poor record of voting in prior elections. He questioned her spending an unprecedented $120 million on her campaign.
“I am not proud of my voting record,” Whitman answered. “I apologize to the people of California.” She insisted the money she has spent was necessary to fend off the unions campaigning against her.
Whitman said the same union bosses would be coming to Brown’s door if he is elected looking “to collect” their “IOUs.”
Brown insisted his campaign was supported by “many businesses and many individuals.”
The debate later turned back to Whitman’s former housekeeper, an undocumented worker she eventually fired, who now claims she was mistreated.
Whitman said the woman had falsified her documentation and later had to be fired. She called for an electronic verification agency to hold employers accountable.
Brown attacked Whitman’s tough position on illegal immigration and her support of a temporary guest worker program as inhumane. He said federal immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship was needed for undocumented immigrants.
“These are real people; these are mothers and dads and kids,” he said. To send them back over the border, “I don’t think that’s human, I don’t think that’s right,” he said.
Ari Burack, Bay City News