Whitman, Brown clash in feisty, freewheeling debate

Republican gubernatorial candidate and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (L) and Democratic gubernatorial candidate and California State Attorney General Jerry Brown shake hands at the conclusion of a debate October 12, 2010 at Dominican University of California in San Rafael, California.
Republican gubernatorial candidate and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (L) and Democratic gubernatorial candidate and California State Attorney General Jerry Brown shake hands at the conclusion of a debate October 12, 2010 at Dominican University of California in San Rafael, California. Rich Pedroncelli-Pool/Getty Images

Republican Meg Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown Tuesday night faced off in their final face-to-face confrontation before voters decide who should be the next governor November 2. The exchange highlighted their political differences, and provided a forum for more nasty jabs that have often dominated the campaign.

One of the early clashes in the debate came over tax cuts, and their role in creating jobs.

Jerry Brown said Meg Whitman's plan to eliminate the state's capital gains tax would mostly benefit millionaires and billionaires, "and would add 5 to 10 billion to our budget deficit and a lot of that money would have to come from public schools."

"Jerry Brown is just wrong on this," Whitman retorted. "The capital gains tax – the tax that he likes so much – is a tax on jobs, it's a tax on job creators, and it’s a tax on investment.”

Whitman, a billionaire, argued taxing wealthier Californians less would allow them to invest more in job-creating businesses. Brown said there’s no guarantee they would do that. Whitman countered that’s the voice of a man who has been in government too long.

“You have been part of the war on jobs in this state for 40 years," Whitman said. "You’ve increased regulations, you’ve increased taxes and you’ve made it more difficult for small businesses to grow and thrive here.”

It’s an attack Whitman’s made before – despite one state department of finance report that showed taxes went down when Brown was governor back in the late 1970s and '80s.

“Taxes went down when I was governor," Brown said. "And by the way, regulations – I haven’t been in Sacramento as governor for 28 years.”

Brown said any increase in regulations can be blamed on the three Republican and one Democratic governor since.

The one hour debate at Dominican University in San Rafael also touched on Whitman’s opposition to new greenhouse gas regulations. She argued they’d kill jobs and should be suspended.

“It’s not fair to the employees in manufacturing, trucking, packaging – all the other industries – to drive those jobs out of state.”

Brown maintained the regulations contained in what’s known as AB32 would help create green jobs.

“That incentivizes biofuels and other substitutes for oil. We don’t want to pull that incentive back."

Brown’s inadvertent voicemail came up during the debate too. In it, a Brown aide is overheard suggesting Whitman is a 'whore' for allegedly promising to protect police pensions in exchange for police endorsements.

Former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw suggested it was similar to using the "N" word to refer to an African-American.

“I don’t agree with that comparison," Brown said. “The campaign apologized promptly, and I affirm that apology tonight.”

“I think every Californian – and especially women – know exactly what’s going on here," Whitman said. "And that is a deeply offensive word to women.”

Said Brown, "Well, could I just interject: have you chastised your chairman Pete Wilson, who called the Congress ‘whores’ to the public sector unions?”

The exchange highlighted a tight race in which Whitman is seeking the support of more women, and Brown is appealing to Latinos by reminding them Whitman is backed by a former governor – Pete Wilson – who sought to deny social services from undocumented immigrants.

Whitman, the 54-year-old former head of eBay. and Brown, a 72-year-old ex-governor and current attorney general, each said they’re best able to address California’s deep problems.

“Here is a big difference between me and Jerry Brown. Jerry Brown is beholden to these public sector unions. I am spending my own money in this race, but it gives me the independence to go to Sacramento.”

“I’ve been in the kitchen," Brown said. "I’ve taken the heat. I know what it is to say yes and what it is to say no. She’s been in the bleachers, looking from the Internet company at what’s happening in government.”

That choice so far has left an unusually large number of voters undecided. Polls show as many as a fifth of likely voters haven’t decided whether California needs an insider or outsider to fix its broken government.

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