Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman squared off last night in their final debate before November's California gubernatorial election. It was a fairly raucous affair. The crowd was clearly in Brown's corner, although each candidate drew applause at various points.
There was contentious sparring on the expected topics, including the economy, illegal immigration, pension reform and the latest tempest in a teapot: the unwitting recording of a Brown staffer wondering whether a particular campaign ad ought to refer to Whitman as a "whore." For that last gaffe -- one not made by Brown personally -- the Democratic candidate used last night's discussion to apologize to Whitman directly:
"I will say the campaign apologized promptly and I'm affirming that apology tonight," he said..."It's unfortunate. I'm sorry it happened. I apologize."
It was about the only moment of comity on the night.
Again, and I'll admit I'm biased, I believe Jerry Brown won this debate. Whitman was more polished than in previous encounters, but Brown is a force to be reckoned with, smart, tenacious, quick-witted, forceful, funny, dedicated, knowledgeable.
Whitman was asked again about her voting record (and in case you've forgotten, she didn't vote at all, in any election, for 28 years). She basically has no defense for this blotch on her resume. Although she has a well-rehearsed, standard answer to the question ("I'm not proud of my voting record..."), it still begs the question: What sort of hubris does it take for someone so disengaged for so long from the political process to think she could step in and take over the leadership of the nation's most important state, not to mention the 6th (or is it the 5th) largest economy in the world?
How does a candidate (Whitman) continually emphasize that "jobs, jobs, jobs..." are her number one priority when one of the big planks in her platform calls for laying off 40,000 state workers? Were she to follow through on that promise, the state unemployment rate would immediately jump by a full 1%.
On the issue of Proposition 8, Whitman gave the standard "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman" bromide, while Brown said supporting the right of gays to marry is an issue of simple humanity.
At one point, after Whitman accused Brown of being a puppet of labor unions, Brown noted that he has repeatedly stood up to the unions, including vetoing pay raises for state workers in his previous stint as governor ("not once, but twice") and calling for pension reform more than 30 years ago. "Look at my record," Brown said (I'm paraphrasing), "I'm the only one with the...er...intestinal fortitude to stand up to the special interests."
When Brown was asked whether he would campaign with Barack Obama when the President comes to the state later this month, Brown said he would do so enthusiastically, noting several of the Obama Administration's accomplishments (health care reform, the stimulus, financial regulation etc...) and stating "I think Obama's done a good job." Whitman, for her part, was asked whether she would be campaigning with Sarah Palin, who will be making appearances in the Central Valley this week. Whitman was pretty clear in her rejection of the Alaska snowbilly, diplomatically stating that she'd be meeting voters at her own campaign stops -- without Palin -- and pointing out that she'd supported John McCain and her "lifelong friend" Mitt Romney in 2008.
One last point: I wonder, why did Tom Brokaw insist on calling Brown "Mr. Brown?" For one thing, he's the sitting Attorney General of the state. For another, there's a certain failed half-term former governor of Alaska who still gets addressed by the deferential title "Governor." Why isn't Jerry Brown, twice elected as California's chief executive, afforded the same respect? Also.