SAN RAFAEL — Three weeks before the Nov. 2 election, California gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman, Republican and former CEO of eBay, and Democrat Attorney General Jerry Brown met for a final war of words. Moderated by former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw, the debate at Dominican University focused on issues such as the state’s fiscal crisis and economy.
It wasn’t long before Brown and Whitman began sparring with each other.
“I wouldn’t totally eliminate the capital-gains tax, which my opponent Meg Whitman wants to do,” Brown said. “That would add $5 billion to $10 billion to our budget deficit,” he added.
“The tax he likes so much is a tax on jobs,” Whitman said.
“How much money will you save if this tax break goes into effect?” Brown asked of Whitman, a billionaire.
“I’m an investor, and investors will benefit from this, but so will job creators, and I was a job creator,” Whitman said.
By contrast, Whitman said Brown’s record showed he would hurt California’s economy.
“Jerry Brown talks about having created all these jobs when he was governor,” Whitman said. “But the fact is, unemployment nearly doubled to what was then a record number of nearly 11 percent.”
“We had something called a business cycle,” Brown shot back. “We did create new jobs. Yes, we were in a recession, and two years later California was booming again.”
“At the end of Mr. Brown’s term as governor, it was in the middle of the Ronald Reagan recession,” he said. “Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee all had Republican governors and higher unemployment rates at the time.”
Later, Brokaw asked Whitman about her decision to spend upward of $140 million on a political campaign, despite her spotty voting record. Whitman called her lack of civic participation “wrong,” but said her wealth allowed her to be independent and said Brown owed public employee unions.
“If Jerry Brown gets to be governor of this state, there will be a meeting…of all the union bosses who are there to collect all the IOUs for their having funded Jerry Brown’s entire campaign,” Whitman said.
Brown said Whitman’s special interests are the rich.
“She’s raised $30 million from the kind of corporate executives who will benefit directly from her key economic plan, which is not to invest in schools, but take money from schools,” Brown said.
Whitman said Brown’s union connections were the real threat to education.
“I have never said I want to cut spending on education,” Whitman said. “Only 60 cents of every dollar goes to the classroom. Forty percent goes to the bureaucracy…that’s why the next governor cannot be beholden to the California Teachers Association, because they want to protect that bureaucracy. And the number two contributor to Jerry Brown’s independent expenditures attacking me is the California Teachers Association.”
Brokaw raised the recent scandals that have rocked both campaigns, first broaching an incident where a voicemail recording revealed a member of Brown’s campaign calling Whitman a “whore.”
“We’ve heard no outrage from you about the use of that kind of language, which to many women is the same as calling an African-American the ‘n-word,’” Brokaw said.
“I don’t agree with that comparison,” Brown said. But, he said, “my campaign apologized promptly, and I affirm that apology tonight.”
Whitman found herself in the hot seat when Brokaw visited her hiring of an undocumented immigrant as a maid in 2000. The maid was fired in 2009 after Whitman said she found out about the woman’s immigration status.
“You said businesses and households ought to be held accountable for employing undocumented workers,” Brokaw said. “If you couldn’t find out someone in your home was undocumented or illegal, how do you expect businesses to be able to?”
“It broke my heart, but I had to fire her,” Whitman said. “This is why we need a very good e-verify system that allows businesses of every size to look at the documentation and know if it is real or not.”
“I think it’s a sorry tale, after working for her for nine years, she didn’t even get her a lawyer,” Brown said.
Correction: in an earlier version of this post, Brokaw’s quote, “You said businesses and households ought to be held accountable for employing undocumented workers…if you couldn’t find out someone in your home was undocumented or illegal, how do you expect businesses to be able to?” was incorrectly attributed to Brown.