Politics

Whitman, Brown spar over Clinton ad

Meg Whitman answers reporters questions after an event in Culver City, Sept. 14, 2010.
Meg Whitman answers reporters questions after an event in Culver City, Sept. 14, 2010.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

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Democratic candidate for governor Jerry Brown Tuesday released his first attack ad against Republican rival Meg Whitman in a tight race that's gaining in intensity. The ad responds to Whitman’s television commercial featuring former President Bill Clinton criticizing Brown during the 1992 Democratic presidential primary. Clinton, meantime, endorsed Brown on Tuesday.

The Whitman ad, released last week, plays video of Bill Clinton attacking Jerry Brown’s tenure as governor from 1975 to 1983.

“He raised taxes as governor of California," Clinton said. "He had a surplus when he took office and a deficit when he left. He doesn’t tell people the truth.”

Brown has said the ad is untrue. And the California Department of Finance agrees. A spokesman said the total state taxes fell from $6.90 for every $100 in income to $6.55.

“The bottom line is that people paid less in taxes when Jerry Brown left office than they did when he took office," Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford said. "There are bills to reduce the income tax rate –with Jerry’s signature on them.”

As for the charge that Brown left the state with a deficit, Clifford said it was a temporary deficit in the midst of a recession and in the wake of Proposition 13’s deeps cuts in tax revenues.

During a campaign stop in Culver City Tuesday, Meg Whitman staunchly defended the ad.

“Everything in that ad was absolutely true. Jerry Brown did raise taxes," Whitman said.

Asked why she and the state’s finance department differ, she clarified what she meant: “If you look at the eight years – six out of eight years on tax dollars per 100 dollars of income, it was higher, the last two years it was not," she said. "So if you take the average, it was absolutely higher.”

Whitman also took the opportunity to point out that Brown raised the gas tax.

Brown spokesman Clifford replied that it was the prudent thing to do in the late 1970s.

“The state needed roads. Jerry and the state legislature came up with a way to pay for the roads that the state needed.”

Whitman’s ad featuring one of the Democratic Party’s most popular figures attacking its nominee for governor poses challenges for Brown. Initially, he responded by questioning whether Clinton “always told the truth” and alluded to the former president's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Since then, Brown has apologized, and Clinton Tuesday endorsed his old rival. The former president called Whitman’s ads "misleading" and said the tough presidential campaign he fought with Brown two decades ago is "irrelevant today."

The ad also prompted Brown to release his first attack ad against Whitman. It features her growing a Pinocchio nose.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if every time Meg Whitman told a lie, her nose would grow," the announcer says.

The negative ads reflect the growing intensity of a race in which voters will start to cast votes by mail in just three weeks.