We don’t need another debate, but Brown could use one

One debate will be plenty, thank you. Gov. Jerry Brown was right. There’s really no need for an encore performance.

The gubernatorial gabfest between Democrat Brown and overmatched Republican challenger Neel Kashkari on Thursday was lively and entertaining, for us political junkies anyway.

And ordinarily there would be at least two sequels before the November election. But for what purpose?

Brown nailed it toward the end of the televised debate, when he was asked whether he would agree to a curtain call. This one exchange, he replied, had sufficiently “exposed the differences” between the two candidates. If anyone wanted more, he added, “you can play it over and over again in your house.”


So if you didn’t watch or record that episode, go to View it and that should satisfy any debate craving.

Besides, there may not be enough headache medicine around to last through another hourlong, breathless rant by these two candidates.

Kashkari: “You sided with the union bosses” on teacher tenure. “You should be ashamed of yourself, governor.”

Brown: “That makes no sense at all. That is so false.”

Kashkari: “It’s absolutely right.”

A little like undisciplined school kids in spots.

Any repeat show likely would be tediously redundant unless presented in a substantially altered format. And, frankly, there isn’t one any better than last week’s: three knowledgeable reporters firing questions at the candidates.

But that’s just from a spectator’s perspective.


Actually, there are reasons why Brown, for his own good, should eagerly agree to keep on debating. For starters, he won this one — not with a knockout, granted, but at least on a split decision. And Neel Kashkari doesn’t look like any Rocky Balboa.

Brown should be trying to run up the score on Kashkari — to win on Nov. 4 by a landslide with a loud voter mandate to achieve just about anything he wants during a record fourth term.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get much of an idea from the debate just what he does have in mind for the next four years. Badly needed regulatory reform to encourage economic growth? Sure, that would be nice, he seemed to say. Maybe. “If we can, we certainly will.”

Tax reform, eliminating a roller-coaster system that perpetuates revenue instability? Nary a word.


Water? Vote for the November bond issue, Brown urged. Beyond that, it sounded like the governor’s sole idea was to muck up the Pacific Coast’s largest estuary, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, by boring two humongous, multibillion-dollar tunnels under it to siphon away fresh water.

How about reviving public support for the bullet train? At $68 billion, he said, it’s still “cheaper than building highways and airport runaways…. It’ll be cheaper and cleaner” while also creating jobs.

The unpopular high-speed rail project badly needs more such public pitches from its most impassioned promoter.

There’s also another reason Brown should want to keep mixing it up with Kashkari. For his party’s sake, he needs to generate more enthusiasm about his reelection — not just tepid acceptance — to draw additional Democrats to the polls. Especially Democratic-leaning young people and Latinos, who are less likely to vote in unexciting elections.


They will be key to Democrats recapturing supermajorities in both legislative houses.

But, hey, maybe the centrist governor deep down would rather not be threatened from the left by Democratic supermajorities that could shove veto-proof liberal legislation down his throat during a lame-duck term.

So it’s not all that simple.

And one glance at a nonpartisan Field Poll last week might show why Brown is leery of more debates. He may be a tad more politically vulnerable than generally believed.


Among likely voters, 56% approve of the way Brown is handling his job. That’s fairly substantial. By comparison, only 45% approve of President Obama’s job performance.

But although a lot of people think Brown is doing a good job, some apparently don’t like him all that well. He’s receiving just 50% of the votes.

Kashkari is getting a mere 34% and trailing by 16 points. But that’s 4 points closer than in June. And a significant number of voters for this stage of the race, 16%, still are undecided.

Many don’t have a clue about Kashkari, 41, a political neophyte who’s a former Goldman Sachs investment banker and Wall Street bank bailout chief. The poll found that 41% have no opinion of him. And Brown likes it that way.


The wily septuagenarian, however, shouldn’t fear debating Kashkari, who performed commendably but was no match for the old pro.

Coincidentally, the event was held only a few feet from the spot where Brown engaged in his first general election gubernatorial debate 40 years ago, almost to the day. Back then, it was in the ballroom of the historic Senator Hotel, space now occupied by a TV channel. Several hundred people watched Brown and Republican state Controller Houston Flournoy go at it in what was judged a draw.

Brown has debated a couple dozen times since then in gubernatorial and presidential campaigns, rarely losing.

In the latest matchup, the governor focused on one winning message: Sacramento was in “shambles” when he returned four years ago and now is recovering. That’s hard to dispute.


And, oh yes, Brown kept asserting: Kashkari was a tool of Wall Street and a “glib salesman.”

Kashkari stood up well, but flailed away too wildly to land many solid blows.

Brown could do himself a favor by telling his challenger to come and get more. But he won’t, and that’s OK. There’s not a great crowd clamor for it, anyway.