* While this may be considered the third debate in this race, I refuse to count the second debate since it was not aired in English, the language the majority of voters speak. While it is fashionable to do everything in English and Spanish these days, the Spanish-only debate unnecessarily excluded a majority of voters. Why the entire debate wasn’t aired in English AND Spanish is beyond me.
Whitman vs Brown, Round Two*
Tonight’s debate between Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown was by far the most interesting debate of the season. It was a pleasure to have just one person—Tom Brokaw—moderating, asking the questions and posing follow-up questions when necessary. The candidates, while clearly sticking to campaign message points, addressed a number of key issues, giving voters a clear idea of the differences between their approaches.
The big question following every debate is always: “who won?” Clearly, Whitman was the victor tonight. The political novice in the race, she proved to be quick on her feet, confident, and comfortable with her facts and knowledge about state government. And she had veteran campaigner Jerry Brown on the run.
One of the ways Whitman had the edge was her direct and clear answers. She seemed prepared to answer the issues in a way with which voters could connect. Brown, on the other hand, often talked around the issues, speaking fast and often in ways that were just too inside baseball for regular Californians. Whitman was much clearer about her ideas and positions, particularly on the important public employee pension issue.
She also did a great job of putting Brown on the defense on his record as governor. While he loves to talk about the chief executive needing to be in charge and leading by example, he seems to unable to acknowledge that when he left office, California was suffering from a weak economy, a large deficit and high unemployment rates.
One of the most fascinating parts of the night was watching Brown dance around the “whore” issue. He did not man up and apologize to Whitman until Brokaw nudged him towards an apology. No matter what policy differences I have with Jerry Brown, I expected him—a product of a Jesuit education—to have owned up to that problem and sincerely apologized. But clearly politics trumps ethics with Brown.
For Whitman’s part, I would have liked to see her simply thank Brown for his (albeit weak) apology, yet still point out that whore is as offensive to women as the “n” word is to African Americans. She could have taken just a bit more of the high road.
When discussing spending, I liked Whitman’s answer on welfare spending. She said that California’s bloated welfare program is not only unhealthy for the state budget, but “it is really not the right thing for our communities.” And she’s right. While it is easy to do, welfare reform should never be discussed only in the context of a budget savings. For even when the voters want to curb welfare spending, they still want to be assured that reforms will not only save money, but make the program more successful for those truly in need.
When Brokaw brought up the idea of reforming Prop. 13, Brown seemed to hint at being open to the idea, saying, that there are “no sacred cows over the long term.” That should be a big hint to the taxpayers that Brown will be open to a wide variety of tax increases, including throwing Prop. 13 out the window, if he were to become governor.
I would have liked a more complex answer from Meg Whitman on Prop. 13. While having her reaffirm her opposition to increasing taxes is always good, I think it would have been a great opportunity to talk about the need for fundamental tax reform.
One of the biggest outcomes of this debate was learning how out of touch with the voters Jerry Brown is. He openly told the voters that he does not agree with or respect their decision on Prop. 8 and said that he thinks Barack Obama is doing a great job. And his slip of the tongue about having the police chiefs in his back pocket was priceless (let’s see how many newspapers include that in their stories tomorrow).
Tonight’s debate showed voters that they do have a clear choice this election. They can support big labor and big government by electing Jerry Brown or they can cast a vote for smaller government and fundamental reform by voting for Meg Whitman. For the sake of our economy, our schools, our housing values and our families, let’s hope the voters elect California’s first female governor on November 2nd.