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Davis, California

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Column: On Meg and Jerry

I never expected to be, but here I am writing for The Aggie again.

I wrote a political column from Spring 2006 till I graduated in 2008, but I never really enjoyed being so involved in politics. Too much hostility, too much stress. In perhaps one of the less logical moves of my life, I decided the solution to my dislike for politics was a career in it. Needless to say, I did not end up happy.

So here I am, seeking certification and vocation from the School of Education and to somehow influence my students positively. And when I managed to win the lottery for a student ticket to the Brown/Whitman debate Tuesday night, this week’s topic seemed predetermined.

Right off the bat, I am a Meg Whitman supporter, but not a thrilled one. I first saw Whitman speak at the California Republican Party convention in March, and it wasn’t perfect. Apparently using a teleprompter, she would deliver a line like politicians often do, with extra emphasis on each word to encourage the audience to applaud. Paraphrasing:

“We must. get. the bureaucrats. off. our. backs. and out. of our. pocketbooks. and. put. this. state. back. on. the. right. track.”

At which point she would lower the microphone and wait for applause, which would slowly trickle into the awkward silence. Really she’s supposed to be interrupted by the applause, but no matter. With the state of our state, I ignore the little things.

At the Mondavi Center I arrived early to find a decent crowd already gathered, mostly composed of unions and other Jerry Brown supporters. Law enforcement and reporters alike had set up camp in large numbers, with countless cruisers and media vans parked all around. Signs-lots of signs-waved over yells, shirts, tents, barriers and checkpoints. Some young Republicans appeared all of a sudden, outnumbered but no less energetic, leading to a delightful “chant-off” for a time before I headed in to the packed hall.

Whitman, much improved in the last six months, argued over the next hour for cutting taxes, reforming public pensions and welfare to reduce costs, creating a more business-friendly atmosphere in this state for additional jobs and putting some of the savings into our UC and CSU systems.

Brown countered with his own reforms of public pensions (less drastic than Whitman’s, which explains the unions marching for him outside), fighting unemployment with green jobs, avoiding tax cuts on the rich to protect our schools and curtailing the salaries of legislators and the governor.

I have to say, Brown had an edge on Whitman in this first debate. He had a smart message of frugality and willingness to make tough decisions, and he got quite a few laughs from the audience. Successful humor – while staying on point and not offending anyone – is no small feat for a candidate. He seemed to speak extemporaneously and with ease, strolling to the podium at the beginning with the comfort of a rock hound in a quarry.

I would guess Whitman got twice as much coaching from her consultants, or more, since she seemed more rehearsed in her pitch. She didn’t fail by any means, but she spoke a little too fast and felt a little too tense. Those are the things that are very hard to work on with a candidate in a short space of time.

But in Whitman’s defense, she’s a businesswoman who’s new to politics, while Jerry Brown has a fossilized star in the sidewalk somewhere on the left side of the Capitol building. It’s easy to chat about something you’ve been working in since Lyndon Johnson was president.

More important is the eternal budget crisis in Sacramento, which has been going on for so many years that no one “in the Building” even feels like it’s a crisis anymore. It’s the status quo. When I imagine Whitman trying to rein in spending without raising all kinds of taxes in the budget, I think we have a decent shot. With Brown, I think it highly unlikely the Democratic legislature wouldn’t get its way. That he’s had a finely-tuned campaign message for the last several months means nothing compared his actions over the last several decades.

And even in a debate, actions speak louder than words.

Start your own debate with ROB OLSON at rwolson@ucdavis.edu.


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