Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman traded barbs over issues from jobs to tax cuts in the opening debate of the California governor’s race.
Whitman, 54, the former chief executive officer of e- commerce site EBay Inc., said she wants to reduce taxes and regulation to create 2 million jobs.
“We have to put a sign on California that says ‘Open for business,’” she said. “We can make the Golden State golden again.”
Brown, 72, a two-term former governor now serving as attorney general, called Whitman’s plan to eliminate the state capital-gains tax a giveaway to wealthy supporters.
“I will not give millionaires and billionaires a $5 billion tax break,” Brown said. “Those with the biggest belts should tuck them in first.”
The nation’s largest state by population has the lowest credit rating and third-highest unemployment rate, at 12.4 percent last month, compared with 9.6 percent nationwide. California remains the only state without a budget three months into the current fiscal year. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican approaching the end of his term, and legislative leaders canceled talks yesterday on how to close the state’s $19.1 billion deficit.
Brown went into last night’s debate at the University of California, Davis, with a 49 percent to 44 percent lead over Whitman, according to a Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll released Sept. 26. The survey of likely voters had a margin for error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
Brown said his job creation plan centered on investments in solar, wind and geothermal power. He said he would continue to enforce the state’s death penalty law, wanted to create a “salary commission” to limit public-employee pay and would introduce “a path to citizenship” for illegal immigrants.
Whitman said she’d cut spending on welfare, negotiate lower pension benefits for existing workers and put future hires into a 401(k)-like savings plan to trim state spending.
“The next governor has to have a spine of steel,” she said. “Mr. Brown talks about bringing people together -- it will be special interests, to collect their IOUs.”
Eight times as many California voters disapprove of the job performance of state lawmakers as favor them, according a Field Poll released yesterday. That’s the lowest rating for lawmakers in the poll’s 27 years.
“It’s not an environment that favors a political insider because people don’t think the system is working,” said Mark Baldassare, president of the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, in an interview before the debate. “What Jerry Brown has going for him is that he has relevant experience, but he’s not in the middle of all the problems.”
John Pitney, a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California, said neither candidate landed a decisive blow.
“Meg proved she had a command of the issues and did not get wobbly under questioning,” Pitney said. “Jerry proved he has a sense of humor.”
Brown got a laugh when asked if he planned to use the governor’s office as a platform to run for president again. Brown said his age and his wife would prevent him from repeating the past.
“I’m not going to try to close down the bars of Sacramento like I did the first time I was governor,” he said.
The candidates meet again Oct. 2 at California State University in Fresno and Oct. 12 at Dominican University in San Rafael. The election is Nov. 2.
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