Brown, Whitman tangle in first gubernatorial debate

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Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown talked policy, and exchanged a few jabs, in their first of three scheduled gubernatorial debates.

Public employee pensions, unemployment, illegal immigration and tax policy dominated the hour-long debate.


Whitman relied heavily on well-worn stories from the campaign trail and set talking points throughout the debate, calling for efficient government, lower taxes and streamlined regulations in ways that sounded familiar to anyone who’s heard Whitman on the stump. And she continually focused on Brown’s campaign support from public employee unions.

Whitman did fire off a new quip that putting Brown in charge of union negotiations was like ‘putting Count Dracula in charge of the blood bank.’

She said Brown was shirking responsibility for what she called his failed policies. ‘You know what drives me crazy about career politicians?’ she asked rhetorically. ‘They refuse to take responsibility.’

Brown said Whitman’s tax package would ‘benefit billionaires and millionaires,’ and would adversely affect public education funding. For every anti-union barb from Whitman, Brown responded with an anti-Wall Street rant, linking Whitman to corporate America.

As the debate wore on, Brown seemed to gain momentum. At times, he was animated and jocular, cracking wise about his pension plan and assurances that he wouldn’t run for president. When talking about a budget surplus while he was governor, Brown said: ‘That surplus didn’t drop down from the tooth fairy. I created that damn thing.’

When asked for assurances that he would not run again, Brown quipped: ‘Age. Hell, if I was younger, you know I’d be running again,’ he said. ‘I have a wife... I won’t try to close down the bars of Sacramento like I did when I was governor.’


One of the sharpest exchanges of the debate came over the accuracy of Whitman’s ubiquitous television ads. Whitman defended her ad using Bill Clinton’s words to attack Jerry Brown. She said Brown took a $6-billion surplus to $1-billion deficit and that he raised taxes as governor.

‘Jerry Brown doesn’t like the ad because it calls out his record,’ Whitman said. ‘I stand by the ads. They are an accurate portrayal of Jerry Brown’s record.’

Brown responded that his ad featuring Whitman with a nose growing like Pinnochio was ‘a hell of an ad.’

Whitman defended her record spending on the campaign saying she was fighting against ‘a pretty big set of entrenched interests’ -- namely organized labor.

The next debate will be Saturday afternoon in Fresno.

-- Anthony York and Shane Goldmacher in Davis