Third Debate Commentary: Whore Flap Likely to Distract From Key Issues Facing State?

statecat.pngIt was not Jerry Brown’s finest moment of the campaign or in the debate, but it is the moment that everyone is talking about, even though it will not do a thing to fix the problems of California.

At issue, an inadvertent recording of a Brown strategy session in which an unidentified person suggests portraying Whitman as a “whore” for creating a loophole in her pension plan to appeal to public safety unions that were endorsing her in the governor’s race.

 

When Moderator Tom Brokaw said to AG Brown that the word is an insult to women similar to the N-word, Mr. Brown at first disputed the comparison, which apparently did not win him friends, and he then apologized.

“I will say the campaign apologized promptly and I’m affirming that apology tonight,” he said.

“You’re repeating it to Ms. Whitman?” Mr. Brokaw asked.

“Yes, I am,” Brown said. “It’s unfortunate. I’m sorry it happened. I apologize.”

Meg Whitman went on the attack telling Mr. Brown that Californians “deserve better than slurs and personal attacks.”  She continued, “I think every Californian, and especially women, know exactly what’s going on here and that is a deeply offensive term to women.”

Is this really what the campaign is about?  It is not as though he was the one who said.  But he handled it poorly.

Post debate, Ms. Whitman said she was “stunned by Gov. Brown’s insensitivity to what that word means to women,” while at the same time she repeatedly insisted that use of the same word by her own campaign chair, former Gov. Pete Wilson, was “different.”  When asked how it was different, she declined to comment.

At the end of the day, this is a distraction.

Onto some substance.  Jerry Brown was able early on to turn around a question on Proposition 13 into an attack on Ms. Whitman’s plan to eradicate the state’s capital gains tax.

“One thing I wouldn’t do to compound our budget deficit and our tax unfairness, I wouldn’t totally eliminate the capital gains tax, which my opponent Meg Whitman wants to do,” Brown said. “That capital gains tax [plan] benefits mostly millionaires and billionaires and would add five to 10 billion to our budget deficit, and a lot of that money would come from public schools and I just don’t believe that’s right.”

Brown countered that more than 80% of the benefit would go to those making at least half a million dollars a year. “And there’s not one guarantee they’ll spend that money in California.  Ms. Whitman, I’d like to ask you: How much money will you save if this tax break were in effect this year or last year?”

KCRA did some fact-checking on some of these claims, and this one pretty much panned out.  The 80% figure is correct.  The vast majority of the relief from capital gains tax would go to a tiny sliver of the taxpayers.  The cost would indeed be roughly in the range that he described, although in 2008 it was a low of $4.8 billion.  KCRA pointed out that the legislature would have the discretion as to where that money came from, but as we all know schools are the biggest ticket item on the agenda and a disproportionate amount has come out of schools.

That was probably former Governor Brown’s best moment in the debate.

There was a clash over AB 32, which would be at least paused by Proposition 23.  Meg Whitman is a huge proponent of that.  Ms. Whitman argued the need to postpone it for a year to study its effect on jobs. 

“AB 32 is going to do real damage to the 97% of the jobs in the rest of the economy,” she said. “So, I called for a one-year moratorium on AB 32.”

“We can be green and smart,” she said, but we must be mindful of record-high unemployment.

“What’s wrong with taking a pause?” she asked.

Mr. Brown declared that actually the green industry and the need to retrofit would generate jobs.  “The people who are crying are two big oil companies in Texas and a petrochemical company in the Midwest,” he said in reference to the funders of the Proposition 23 campaign.

Neither candidate pointed out the obvious, and that is the threat that Global Warming poses to California, and I think that was a point that Jerry Brown left on the table.

There was another interesting clash where Jerry Brown made a gaffe, but then recovered. 

“Jerry Brown has a 40-year record of being soft on crime,” Whitman said. “He appointed judges who were recalled by the voters, Rose Bird being the very best example, who was simply not fit to be a judge.”

Defending his record as a crime fighter he said, “I’ve got the police chiefs in my back — backing me, because they know I’m tough on crime.”

Meg Whitman seized on the moment, “I think he said he’s got the police chiefs in his back pocket.”

“Sometimes, unaccustomed as I am to politics, I stumble in one of my phrases,” Mr. Brown responded, mocking his lengthy political career.

The strongest criticism that Meg Whitman has about Jerry Brown is actually also one of his strengths, his 40 years of public service.  The problem that she has is that her own record is actually shameful.  She has apologized for failing to be civic-minded, but her explanation has always rung hollow because she says she is sorry and then immediately changes the subject.

This is someone who felt it was not even important enough to register to vote up until a few years ago.  Now she wants to be governor?

Her naiveté here is amplified when she talks about her plan, and how she will be able to get California back on track again.

Ms. Whitman said the next governor has to have a plan, and then criticized her opponent for not having a plan.

“I’ve got 30 years of experience of balancing budgets and using technology,” she said.

However, Jerry Brown got the last word on this topic, reminding her that she had to get the legislature’s support.  And that is the part that I think Meg Whitman really does not understand or get.

Everyone wants to believe that you can come in, run government like a business.  But government is not a business.  You cannot fire the board of directors if they bicker and fail to act.  It is very different balancing a budget in the business world, compared to a budget in politics.

I do think that Jerry Brown is also in for a bit of a rude awakening, although I think the idea of starting the budget process early and with all 120 members is a good start.  However, I think that getting a budget passed in 1978 was easier than it is now.

Meg Whitman attacked Jerry Brown’s record during the time he was governor, claiming government spending grew by 120% under his administration.  KCRA, in fact-checking, said that while that was accurate, that number was in fact quite a bit lower than his predecessor’s, Ronald Reagan, and that it does not take into account growth in the population of California or inflation, which was quite high during his tenure.

Finally, there was a discussion of pensions.  Jerry Brown has pushed for a two-tiered system, which has a number of problems and may be politically unsustainable over time.  The biggest problem is that any savings derived from a two-tiered system would be well down the line, as current employees are replaced by new employees.

His solution for that is that current employees “contribute more to their pensions.”

Meg Whitman pushed the idea that public safety workers’ retirement age go up to 55, which I support.  She talked about the $60-billion unfunded liability, which KCRA, in fact-checking, believed was fairly accurate.  However, there is another part of that equation that neither Ms. Whitman nor KCRA picked up.

The unfunded liability, in part, has to do with investment, and as investment returns have fallen, the gap has widened.  She argued that Californians will be on the hook for all of this money, but that is highly unlikely.  There probably will be increased employer contributions in the coming years to shore it up, but the amount of money that the taxpayers pay will be nowhere near $60 billion.

So who won?  This was definitely the best that Meg Whitman looked.  She was forceful and assertive and at times Jerry Brown looked weary and defensive.  On substance, I’ll probably take Jerry Brown.

Dan Walters gave it to Meg Whitman on points.  He writes, “If debating is scored by how one meets, falls below or exceeds expectations, Whitman probably won on points Tuesday night – although whether her jousting with Brown has any lasting effect on their campaigns remains uncertain.”

He continues, “There have been no widely-accepted polls since, but it’s reasonable to assume that regardless of who might be a few points ahead or behind, the duel is still close enough to go either way – depending on how 15 percent or 20 percent of undecided voters break.”

I probably agree with that assessment, and the real question is whether the “whore” issue has a lasting impact.  I think, given the gravity of the challenges facing California, it will not be a significant factor, and I think Jerry Brown will ultimately win a narrow but decisive victory.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

 

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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18 Comments

  1. Neutral

    Brown then asked Whitman, “Have you chastised your chairman, Pete Wilson, who called the Congress whores to the public-sector unions?”

    Whitman responded, “You know better than that, Jerry. That’s a completely different thing.”

    No Meg, context being everything, it’s the same. Like most people, the audience got that part.

  2. Plankton

    How are Meg and the law enforcement unions not “whore”s, when they’ll give her an endorsement in exchange for her promise that their pensions won’t be cut? Actually, I guess that makes her a pimp, and the law enforcement unions a “whore”. Regardless, to me the broader issue is the lack of solidarity among public employee labor unions. Their cooperation with Republicans laying groundwork pitting one union against another for scraps is disturbing. How short-sighted can you get?

  3. rusty49

    You’ve got to love it, the Democrats orchestrate the whole phony illegal housekeeper facade and then Brown’s campaign gets caught on tape plotting to call Whitman a whore. What goes around comes around.

  4. David M. Greenwald

    What I love are people who try to make hay out of one thing and explain away the other. Can’t really have it both ways.

    For me, they are a partisan side show by both sides. And you’ll note I never covered the housekeeper issue just in case you want to argue that I have not been consistent on this point.

  5. nprice

    “Whore” is the wrong word, wrong concept. Try “criminal” as in the federal criminal statute entitled “Bribery of Public Officials” on the books for decades. It’s Title 18, Section 11, Subsection 201 of the United States Criminal Code and even big campaign contributions could and should be considered as “legalized” political bribery. Just look what the U.S. Supreme Court has unleashed with their ruling in Citizens United v the Federal Election Commission that allows money to flood into these mid-term elections. Here’s the relevant passage: “Whoever directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official . . . with intent to influence any official act . . . or, being a public official, directly or indirectly, corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for being influenced in the performance of any official act . . . shall be fined not more than three times the monetary equivalent of the thing of value, or imprisoned for not more than fifteen years, or both, and may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.”

  6. Dr. Wu

    [quote]So who won? This was definitely the best that Meg Whitman looked. She was forceful and assertive and at times Jerry Brown looked weary and defensive. On substance, I’ll probably take Jerry Brown.[/quote]

    Who won? The Chilean miners, at least if one looks at TV ratings, but overall I agree with David.

    Jerry did not have a good night and he bungled the whole “whore” issue. Of course no on on Whitman’s campaign ever says anything offensive and Brokaw’s equating the W word to the N word is off. I’ve used the W word many times (even on this blog I think) but would never ever use the N word. And the word applies to men as well as women or groups of people at least the way I hear it used today–maybe that wasn’t true in Brokaw’s time.

    Was there any substance?

    1. Meg wants to lower the capital gains tax adding $5 billion (according to Jerry–I have not verified this estimate but it’ll be big) to our $20 billion structural deficit. THis is how modern Republicans show they are fiscally responsible before they start trashing gays (thankfully Meg did not do that and although she opposed gay marriage she did so carefully).

    2. Meg is softening on AB32 as one would expect. She opposed it when cultivating right-wing Republicans but now says she wants a 1 year delay. Since AB32 is already phased in over years this is really just political doublespeak. She also claimed AB32 hurts truckers–a bad economy and high fuel prices (due to our addiction to oil) are hurting truckers.

    3. Meg supports public safety people and would continue the defined benefit plans for police officers and others. As any reader of this blog knows the public safety pensions are the crux of the problem. Meg says she will also revise these plans but she starts off in a weaker position than Jerry. Again her fiscally responsible cred seems weak to me. Jerry may be in bed with the teachers but Meg is in bed with the public safety people and they are the biggest part of the problem.

    I actually think both Meg and Jerry are serious intelligent candidates. Neither was ever a witch (maybe Jerry dated a few in the 70s–who knows). Both know that the budget is the key issue. Both are beholding to special interests.

    Who is more likely to get something done? I still say Jerry and I think his party affiliation, the fact that this will likely be his last political office, and his willingness to think outside the box (planet?) are assets but it’ll be close.

  7. E Roberts Musser

    Neutral: “Brown then asked Whitman, “Have you chastised your chairman, Pete Wilson, who called the Congress whores to the public-sector unions?”
    Whitman responded, “You know better than that, Jerry. That’s a completely different thing.””

    Def’n of “whore” from Mirriam-Webster Dictionary:
    * A woman who commits sex acts for money
    * A venal or unscrupulous person.

    I would argue that Brown’s recent use of the word “whore” was more personal in nature and personally directed, therefore more offensive than anything Pete Wilson said about Congress.

    However, neither candidate is stellar – I’m not impressed by either one. They both are weak on substance and long on drivel/party talking points. Why can’t the parties (Democrats, Republicans, third parties) come up with better candidates? I wonder if the poisonous atmosphere of politics is keeping good people from running for office.

  8. David M. Greenwald

    I also think the process makes people look less good than they are. If you talk with some of these people, you realize that they many are very bright and competent people, but they have water down their message into ten-second soundbites that will be picked up by the news. That’s not conducive to in-depth substantive discussion.

    One of the smartest people I have met in politics is John Garamendi. I sat around with him along with a group of bloggers and he talked our ears off on policy for 90 minutes, knew it inside and out, knew the history, could talk all day. Problem was he could never effectively translate it into higher office.

  9. Mr.Toad

    “I would argue that Brown’s recent use of the word “whore” was more personal in nature and personally directed, therefore more offensive than anything Pete Wilson said about Congress. “

    But Brown didn’t use it or at least nobody knows who used it although Brown did apologize on behalf of the campaign for whoever used it.

  10. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “I also think the process makes people look less good than they are. If you talk with some of these people, you realize that they many are very bright and competent people, but they have water down their message into ten-second soundbites that will be picked up by the news. That’s not conducive to in-depth substantive discussion.

    One of the smartest people I have met in politics is John Garamendi. I sat around with him along with a group of bloggers and he talked our ears off on policy for 90 minutes, knew it inside and out, knew the history, could talk all day. Problem was he could never effectively translate it into higher office. “

    Your observation about 60 second sound bites is so true. I think it is the reason we are not really getting news, just tidbits of titillating info.

    Inre Garamendi, wasn’t he involved in at least one scandal. This is all I could find on quick search of internet, but it could explain his difficulties:
    Perception vs. Reality
    Executive Life: John Garamendi’s Mill Stone

    By Geoff Metcalf
    September 19, 2006

    “Lying is like alcoholism. You are always recovering.” –Steven Soderbergh

    Few people (other than the victims) remember what John Garamendi did and didn’t do as Insurance Commissioner 15- years ago with Executive Life.

    Some 300,000-policy holders were ‘hosed’ when Garamendi sold Executive Live to a French government owned bank and a junk bond player.

    Elderly and handicapped policyholders were devastated while the bank and junk bond king made BIG bucks.

    According to a California Republican Party paid ad, “Garamendi accepted contributions from lawyers who profited from the deal” and even took a six figure job from the lead investor’s partner.

  11. E Roberts Musser

    Notwithstanding that California law forbids a foreign owned insurance company from owning insurers in California, despite court records and documents, Garamendi says he was ‘unaware’ a foreign government’s bank was buying the bonds for pennies on the dollar.

    Like an old Chad Mitchell Trio refrain, “I didn’t know it all…I didn’t see a thing…You can’t hold me to blame…What could I do?” Garamendi claims to have been duped. He didn’t know what he didn’t know?

    Partisanship aside, his response/defense suggests he wasn’t corrupt…merely incompetent. His failure to do simple due diligence was epic.

    When congressional hearings were held in 2002 into the Executive Life scandal by the House Government Reform Committee, Garamendi refused to testify. Huh? This is the same guy who said he would create ‘the best consumer protection agency in the world’…but he refused to even show up and fight for policyholders before congress.

    Dr. J. Harold Smith once observed, “More people would learn from their mistakes if they weren’t so busy denying them.” Amen!

    The Executive Life scandal continues to stink 15-years after the fact.

    The complexities of the Executive Life Insurance Company story are significant. However, it raises a gaggle of issues surround the smarts, decision-making skills, and character of Garamendi.

    Garamendi sold the Executive Life portfolio for $3.25-Billion. That may sound like a lot of money, but is way less than what he could have (and should have) gotten on behalf of the victimized policyholders. The junk bonds eventually soared in value and were ultimately worth billions more…that the policyholders never saw.

    State Senator Jackie Speier, Garamendi’s Democratic primary opponent, held hearings and requested a state audit of Garamendi’s actions (and lack of actions) in Executive Life. The State Auditor is expected to release the audit sometime this fall. Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen until after the election.

    Why did Garamendi settle out of court for chump change? His own staff reported that losses to Executive Life policyholders were over $4.5-Billion. A lawsuit filed by another insurance commissioned claims the losses were at least $4-Billion. So why would Garamendi settle for less than $600-Million?

    He says he was ‘duped’? Somebody was duped, but was it the favorite son Insurance Commissioner? Did Garamendi ‘inadvertently’ violate state law to help those who were helping him at the expense of the thousands of policyholders to whom he had a fiduciary responsibility?

    The fact that a politician who is known for attending ‘the opening of an envelope’ and aggressively seeking media attention, uncharacteristically never even held a news conference to discuss Executive Life is curious.

    This “I was duped/I am a victim” stuff doesn’t cut it…especially by someone seeking the office of Lieutenant Governor.

    Geoff Metcalf is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host.

    He is a veteran media performer with an eclectic professional background covering a wide spectrum of radio, television, magazine, and newspapers.

    A former Green Beret and retired Army officer he is in great demand as a speaker.

    CalNews.com
    News/Politics/and More

  12. wdf1

    Whitman’s pitch, that she is a successful outsider (non-politician), would have more resonance if Schwarzenegger hadn’t already made the very same pitch when he first ran. At least some of the current delays in getting budgets past is attributable to his lack of political experience in dealing with the legislature.

  13. E Roberts Musser

    wdf1: “Whitman’s pitch, that she is a successful outsider (non-politician), would have more resonance if Schwarzenegger hadn’t already made the very same pitch when he first ran. At least some of the current delays in getting budgets past is attributable to his lack of political experience in dealing with the legislature.”

    AMEN!

  14. STORMY

    Schwarzenegger is more of a movie star and Whitman is more of a business star so I do not see them as equivalent except for the outsider claim. This thread contains more even handed comments than I expected considering the political topic and season. Thank you.

  15. Daniel

    [quote]This is someone who felt it was not even important enough to register to vote up until a few years ago. Now she wants to be governor?[/quote]

    If you’ve got a billion dollars and the ear of the president, governor, and House Speaker, why would you waste the time to vote? You could just call the president and lobby him directly. Voting is a waste of time if you’re so influential that you can speak directly to the officeholders and they listen to you. I don’t begrudge Whitman for not casting a vote, when presidential elections in California are decided by landslides. Rather, I think calling the president is a MUCH more efficient use of her time.

  16. wdf1

    Voting is a waste of time if you’re so influential that you can speak directly to the officeholders and they listen to you. I don’t begrudge Whitman for not casting a vote, when presidential elections in California are decided by landslides. Rather, I think calling the president is a MUCH more efficient use of her time.

    That’s not a justification that Whitman would dare use in public.

    And her lack of involvement in regular voting only re-inforces the notion that, in addition to not being a politician, she has only recently become interested in politics.

  17. E Roberts Musser

    Daniel: “If you’ve got a billion dollars and the ear of the president, governor, and House Speaker, why would you waste the time to vote? You could just call the president and lobby him directly. Voting is a waste of time if you’re so influential that you can speak directly to the officeholders and they listen to you. I don’t begrudge Whitman for not casting a vote, when presidential elections in California are decided by landslides. Rather, I think calling the president is a MUCH more efficient use of her time.”

    In addition to the astute observation by wdf1, and as others have pointed out, there is a big difference between governing and running a business. You have to work with the legislative politicians, which is not an easy thing to do.

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