Issues debated included education, healthcare, immigration reform, jobs, the water shortage, and the economy – as well as Whitman’s undocumented maid
By Miriam Raftery
October 3, 2010 (San Diego's East County)--In the second debate between candidates in the Governor’s race, former E-Bay CEO Meg Whitman and –ex-Governor/current Attorney General Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown reached out to Latinos, who account for one-third of California’s population and constitute a major voting block.
Hosted by Univision, a Spanish-language TV station, the debate covered education questions in depth, as well as other issues of interest to Latinos including immigration reforms, the state’s water shortage, healthcare, jobs, and the state budget. The controversy over an undocumented immigrant housekeeper employed by Whitman also sparked contentious discussion.
The debate opened with candidates asked how they are outreaching to Latinos.
“The reason why Latinos should be interested in my campaign is because I know how to create jobs. My number one priority is getting Californians back to work,” said Whitman. Her second priority if elected would bes “fixing our K-12 schools,” she added, noting that graduation rates are lower among Latinos than non-Latino Californians. If schools are not fixed, “there will be no hope,” she said. She also pledged to use her business experience to create jobs.
“My outreach really starts with my long record,” said Brown, who signed the nation’s first agricultural relations law when he was Governor, enabling farm workers to unionize. “People, particularly when they’re poor, they don’t have power, they don’t even speak English, they need a strong lawyer advocate standing in their corner,” said Brown, who also pledged to create jobs. “I worked very closely with Cesar Chavez and I’m very proud of that.”
Whitman found herself in the hotseat on the second question, which focused on recent revelations that Whitman hired an undocumented worker for nine years as a housekeeper and nanny. Asked by the moderator why she did not show “compassion” for her long-time employee and help the woman try to gain legal status, Whitman blamed the employment agency and then leveled accusations against her opponent.
“She forged documents, she was here illegally and there's really not much one can do. So it broke my heart,” said Whitman, who has claimed that her maid intercepted a letter from the Social Security administration warning that the maid’s documentation was in question. The maid’s attorney, Gloria Allred, later produced the letter with Whitman’s husband’s handwriting on it. “The real tragedy here is Nicky,” Whitman said, turning to Brown. “Jerry, you know, you should be ashamed. You and your surrogates put her deportation at risk…You should be ashamed for sacrificing Nicky Diaz on the altar of your political ambitions.”
Brown denied any involvement and fired back,“You're going around the state saying employers must be accountable for hiring unlawful people. There ought to be raids on businesses." Whitman offers "no path to citizenship," for undocumented workers such as her maid, he noted, adding that Whitman wants to "ban young Latinos who may have lived here their whole lives and got A's in high school" from going to Fresno State. "You're the one who falsely defamed this woman by saying she stole your mail. It came out that it's not true and you had information...enough to know there was something wrong here...You have blamed her, blamed me, blamed the left, blamed the unions, but you don't take accountability and you can't be a leader unless you're willing to stand on your own two feet and say, yeah, I made a mistake and I'm going on from here.”
Whitman responded, “And what would you have had me do? Would you have had me call the Attorney General's Office to have her deported?"
The moderator asked Whitman if she would make good on her statement to reporters that she would take a lie detector test to prove that she is telling the truth. Whitman said she would only take one if her former maid and her opponent also do so. Brown said he has not been accused of breaking the law and sees no need for a lie detector test.
Next, candidates where asked whether they believe a state crackdown on employers who hire illegal immigrants should include those who hire domestic workers such as nannies and maids.
“Yes,” said Whitman despite employing an undocumented worker in her own household. "We have got to get our arms around illegal immigration and I've got a good plan. I have said from the beginning I did not think the Arizona law was correct for California but we have to secure the border. We have to hold employers accountable, all employers accountable for hiring only documented workers. We need a better e-verify system. Three strikes and you're out, pay a fine, and lose your business license.”
Brown noted that he’s been endorsed by the California Police Chiefs Association because of his “common sense approach to crime and also how you deal with undocumented persons.” Brown said he opposes use of state resources for the issue because it is a federal problem “and the federal government ought to do something about it. Now talking about cracking down Ms. Whitman obviously didn't crack down on herself,” he said.
Brown suggested that Whitman’s support for the Arizona law in Arizona, while opposing a similar law here, is hypocritcal. He also said she has listed different stances on issues in English ads and flyers than in Spanish versions. “She said she was against 187. 187 was a ballot measure that you voted for or against that would deny benefits to undocumented people. She was in Boston, she didn't vote. And then in her English language she said Latinos or undocumented people should not expect any state benefits,” Brown said. “She's talking out of both sides of her mouth and I think her veracity is seriously in question.”
The next question asked candidates their views on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and their stances on sanctuary cities.
Brown said he opposes both driver’s licenses and sanctuary cities that assist people who break the law. But he pledged that if elected he would use his power as Governor of the nation’s largest state to “do whatever I can to get this comprehensive immigration reform” at the federal level. He noted that Whitman opposes a path to citizenship for those living in the shadows.
"Do we deport two million people in California, 11 million people throughout the country?” he asked. “This is a real human tragedy. It's a problem and these people are working for Ms. Whitman. They're working in our, they're working all over the place, in this university, in restaurants and picking the food in our fields…So the real answer is not a little piecemeal driver's license. That sends the wrong signal. What we need to do is to as Californians we need to demand that our federal government create a secure border, yes but a path to immigration and a way to handle this thing instead of saying it doesn’t exist.”
Whitman insisted she has been consistent in opposing Prop 187 since her campaign began, then clarified her stance on Arizona’s law. “I have said I was not for the Arizona law….The federal government has abdicated their responsibility and I said I thought it was the state's rights issue to decide, what each state thought was important for them. And I have said that I do not think the Arizona law was correct in California. If such a law came to me I would veto it and I have been incredibly consistent on securing the border, on holding employers accountable for documented workers. And I did hold myself accountable,” she said, but did not specify how.” It's just a lie to say that I didn't.”
She called for more Border Patrol agents and more resources such as infrared technology. Whitman said she would not consider the border secure until “there are no more illegal immigrants coming across the border” and declined to answer when repeatedly asked if she would support comprehensive immigration reform. “Until we can secure the border and get our arms around this problem I don't think we can talk about what the right thing to do is,” she replied.
Jorge de la Cruz, a viewer, asked candidates whether they believe that by helping Califiornia’s illegal immigrants, she would be helping the state’s economy.
Whitman proposed a guest worker program, but added, “We live in a rule of law…There is a judicial process and we have to abide by that so I think the best thing that I can do to help the Latino community in California is first and foremost, as I said, jobs. But let's talk about education. You know the Latino community lives in communities where often the high school graduation rate is 50 percent or less. I don't know how many of you have seen the movie, "Waiting for Superman," but you should because you can see the crisis in our school system. And I am the best positioned to fix our education system. Without a great education system for every child in California there is no California dream.”
She then accused the California Teacher’s Association of being against education reform. “They are hunkered down to protect the status quo and the California Teachers Association is the number two contributor to Mr. Brown's campaign of independent expenditure attack ads against me,” she said, then pledged, “I will take on the California Teachers Association to fix once and for all our K through 12 education system because I am not beholden to the union.”
Brown noted that Whitman’s statements are “the same thing that Arnold [Schwarzenegger] said under the same guru, her campaign manager. She's paying $90,000 a month saying, go fight the teachers, go fight the firemen, go fight the public employees,” he said, recalling that four anti-public employee ballot initiatives proposed by the campaign manager and supported by Governor Schwarzenegger were defeated by voters. “The Governor lost a lot of his credibility. This is not about scapegoating immigrants or about fighting with the people who have to work with, it's about cooperation. It's about bringing people together,” he said, then suggested that his opponent has an anti-worker attitude.
“She outsourced workers. They laid off 10 percent of the people [at E-Bay, where Whitman was CEO] after she made over $100 million dollars in her last year. And this is about human beings. And you don't bring in temporary workers and then when you know you use them up you send them back. That was the old Bracero program…You don't just bring in semi-serfs and say do our dirty work and then we're finished with you like an orange. You just throw it away. That's after you've squeeze them, that's not right.” He added that Whitman ran a radio ad that said undocumented people should expect no state benefits “and she's against allowing any undocumented person to go to a community college. That's not right,” Brown said.
The next question came from a University of California student who said that because her parents were not legal immigrants, she would be unable to pursue the career path to fulfill her dream. She asked whether candidates would support “the federal Dream Act that would help students that are in my same situation and place to get, be on the path to legalization?”
Brown said he supports the federal Dream Act and also the state Dream Act. “Our current governor just vetoed a proposal and I would have signed that bill,” he said. “Now Ms. Whitman goes beyond opposing the Dream Act, she wants to kick you out of this school because you are not documented and that is wrong, morally and humanely.”
Whitman, who has stated she opposes college for children of undocumented immigrants, congratulated the student on her success in getting a K-12 education “even though you are undocumented. But she said California faces challenges. “Our resources are scarce. We are in terrible economic times and slots have been eliminated at the California State University system. I think they're down by 40,000 students. The same is true at the CSU and the University of California system. Programs have been cut and California citizens have been denied admission to these universities.” Whitman added that she doesn’t believe allowing undocumented immigrants to attend college is fair to California citizens. “So I would not be for the California Dream Act or for the federal Dream Act,” she concluded.
The moderator stated that the high school drop-out rate for Latinos in California has grown from 14 percent in 2000 to 19 percent in 2008; only 9.9 percent have college degrees compared to 38.9 percent of non-Hispanic Whites. “How would you help Hispanic youth finish high school and go to college so that they have the tools to participate in the growth and development of the state?” she asked.
Whitman noted that California’s schools now rank near the bottom of all 50 states. “It is not acceptable that we have high school graduation rates of less than 50 percent,” she said. “The first thing I want to do is grade every single public school a simple letter grade… They did this in Florida …when you told parents that their third-grader was in an 'F' school you have never seen moms and dads so riled up. It increased parent involvement and made a big difference,” she said.
Whitman also called for an increase in charter schools. “Charter schools do a better job for our children but they also provide parents choice. So if your child is in a failing school you have a place to go. And we need to make it easier to start charter schools in California,” she said. She also called for higher pay for teachers contending with overcrowded classrooms, and added that she wants to preserve funding for K-12 education. “Of all the money we spend, only 60 percent of it goes to classroom, 40 percent of it goes to the bureaucracy. I want to bust the bureaucracy, get local control down to the principals and the students and get our education system back on track.”
Brown opposed Whitman’s plan for a letter grade for schools, which he suggested was simplistic. “All the schools have numerical grades, 750 on what is called the academic performance index or maybe 800 or maybe 500, if it's a failing school. So every parent, every citizen knows precisely in every school, and every class how people are doing on the numerical score.” Brown noted that he has started two charter schools, “Open military schools, where one out of four of the graduates were admitted to the UC system this year, I'm very proud of that and the Oakland School for the Arts.”
But Brown suggested that Whitman’s pledge to fund K-12 education was unrealistic given that she has also pledged to slash the capital gains tax. “One thing I don't want to do is give the capital gains tax break to business and all these other tax breaks, 'cause that cuts a big hole in the budget and the budget is already $19 billion in the red. And half of the money goes to schools,” the former Governor pointed out. “So every time you take another billion out of our budget, you're taking half of that away from our schools and they've already been cut enough. I say protect the schools. Finally, more flexibility at the local level. More power in teachers and principals. Take it away from the bureaucrats in Sacramento and return it to the local level. That will make teaching more effective and I think more responsive,” Brown concluded.
The next question came from a Univision viewer, Bette Rubinow. Noting that the University of California has been forced to turn away tens of thousands of students due to state budget cuts, Rubinow asked, “Since required classes are not readily available, it has become increasingly difficult to complete an undergraduate education at our California public universities in four years This makes the cost of getting a degree even higher. As Governor, what woud you do to ameliorate this situation?”
Brown called it a “big problem” and noted that he and his father (Governor Pat Brown) have both worked to expand and strengthen the University of California system. “After I left Sacramento.. things just went down hill after that and they started spending more and more money in prisons. Can you believe the next three governors built 22 prisons and only two colleges?” he asked. “We’ve got to start finding savings and I think we can find a billion in the prison system. I want to move that back into the college system."
Secondly, Brown said, "I want the community college curricula to match very closely UC. So when you take something at the community college it will be accepted and you can be getting your work so you can get right into the UC system upper division,” he said. “The other thing is online, we ought to try some of that.” Noting that getting the economy going could also generate money for education, he added, “My jobs program will do exactly that. It'll restore California as a leader in the field of innovation and renewable energy.”
Whitman took a different approach. “The only way we are going to ever have enough money to fully fund our UC system and our K-12 education system is to get our economy back on track, and I am for eliminating the state capital gains tax and you know why, because it's a tax on jobs, it's a tax on innovation,” she said.. “We don't live in a vacuum in California anymore. We have to compete for jobs with Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Texas. If we make these tax cuts businesses will stay in California. Businesses will come back to California and we will have more tax revenues, not less tax revenues.”
She slammed Brown’s record on K-12 education. “He ran for mayor of Oakland as the education mayor. Three years later the state took over the Oakland public school system because they were $100 million in debt and he has not accepted accountability for this,” Whitman charged.
Brown called Whitman’s statement about the Oakland schools “deceptive” and clarified, “I asked the state to come in. I was the mayor. The school board is separately elected, it's a different government, a different jurisdiction and the mayor any city, particularly Oakland, has no power over this. I called those people in. When I ran for mayor I said, I'm going to create charter schools, encourage them, and thereby put competitive pressure on the main school system. And you know what, the charter schools went from 3 to 21 during my eight years as mayor and I'm proud of that.”
Jose Antonio Ramirez , administrator of the community of Firebaugh, asked candidates how they plan to solve the water crisis at the state level, noting that the water shortage has caused an exodus in the Central Valley and has contributed to unemployment.
Whitman said she supported a water bond initiative that the Legislature passed that has since been postponed to 2012. “An essential element of solving our water crisis is more above and below ground storage, a peripheral canal to get water around the delta to the Central Valley as well as to Orange County and San Diego and Los Angeles” she said. “We all have to do a better job of conserving water, so that in the end we can pump more water back to the delta for the ecological health of the delta as well as the farmers in the delta.” She called the water bond “a hard-fought compromise between the environmental group, the water agencies, the users of water and I think it was the right thing to do. Had that bond been funded, I would have used the governor's veto power to eliminate a billion to a billion dollars of pork out of that bond,” she said, then added, “We're going to be having the same conversation five years from now and 10 years from now unless we move forward to solve the water crisis in the Central Valley.”
Brown said a water plan must also include flood control since the state has suffered both massive floods and droughts. He noted that moving water from the north to the south is controversial, though it needs to be done. “There's a reason why the last water project built in California was built by my father back in the '60's.” Brown noted that when he was Governor, “ I actually got the peripheral canal built with environmental protection for the delta through the legislature.” It was later defeated by a referendum, he recalled.“But we had the plan. We had the peripheral canal. so I don't give you promises. I've got a record.” He pledged to make water issues a priority if elected, drawing on his experience, and added that he would assure that drinking water is pure. “There are a lot kids even in this valley they're suffering from birth defects.” He also called for creation of infrastructure jobs. “Then we take care of those levies that are falling apart and that's another jobs program. Invest in water infrastructure and we can put a lot of people to work.”
The next question asked candidates how they would facilitate access to healthcare for Hispanics, almost 30% of whom do not have health insurance in California.
Brown said he supports President Obama’s health plan. “I'd like to know if Ms. Whitman does that, because that's the only game in town right now and while there's some problems, like for example it needs more cost control, it is a framework to bring in children and to bring in people who have no other way of getting their health insurance.“ He pledged to work with the federal government to help make the new national health plan work.
He also said he would seek ways to cover the people with the lowest incomes, as well as assuring that health programs for those working in the public sector don’t fall to the budget axe. But he noted that lack of healthcare has in part been about “jobs with good wages and we've got to be fair about this. Because in the last 20 years the income has been moving up to the highest sectors, the top one or two percent and those in the middle and much worse those towards the bottom they don't have enough money even to do the basics which are healthcare. So I'm gonna be a champion for the working people of California and decent wages and good jobs.”
Whitman called healthcare an enormous challenge that she said is driving up the cost of small business and causing some small business owners to cut back on health insurance or not hire more workers. “Obama care is going to make it worse for small businesses not better,” she said. “The other issue is it could put another $3 billion unfunded liability on California, meaning we're going to owe $3 billion more when we already have a $20 billion budget deficit.”
She called for opening up California to more insurance competition “so there's more choices for people, more ability to buy plans. Second we should make sure that we eliminate the fraud in Medicare and Medi-Cal. Estimates are $3 billion to $5 billion of fraud in that system and that's because we don't use technology to do more with less,” she added, calling the state’s computer system outdated. “I come from Silicon Valley and we can do a lot better, and then we can use electronic medical records to make sure that we bring down the costs of healthcare for everyone which will allow us to cover more individuals and that's the ultimate goal.”
Candidates were asked what steps they would take to make sure that the state is not left without a budget in the future.
Whitman said she would begin the budget process earlier. “First is I think we've got some teeth in the Constitution that says by June 15 we have to have a budget. So I think for every day that the legislature is late on that budget they shouldn't be allowed to fundraise. They shouldn't be allowed to collect their salary, and they shouldn't get their per diems.” She also called for a two-year budget cycle. “But the only way to ultimately close this budget gap is we have to put Californians back to work,” she said. “That's the only sustainable way to increase tax revenues. And then we have to run the government more efficiently and effectively. We've got to streamline the number of people who work for the state, we've got to use technology to do more with less… We also have to reform our welfare program, and we have to get after the public employee pension benefits that will cause this state to run out of money if we don't renegotiate the benefits.”
Brown agreed that the budget is “a mess” but added that the budget is a blueprint that “expresses our values as Californians.” He called for “tough decisions; we've got to live within our means.” He noted that as Governor, he signed eight budgets and all were on time, or nearly so. “We had an economy that created -- talking about jobs, 1,970,000 jobs during the eight years that I was Governor.” He reiterated that if elected, unlike Whitman he would not cut the capital gains tax. “California is already getting over 50 percent of the venture capital with the income tax we have. This is a question of values. If you lower the capitals gains, you eliminate it, the people who clip coupons and just earn interest they don't pay the tax. But the hardworking people of California, policemen, firemen, carpenters, they have to pay the tax on their salary and that's not right.” He added, “Then I'd start, lead from the top, set an example. Cut my own budget 15 to 20 percent, challenge the Legislature do the same. Then go through every department as I've done before, and I will cut and make the tough decision. You can count on it.”
The moderator next posed an intriguing question, asking each candidate to identity three positive traits that could make their opponent a good Governor. Brown said of Whitman, “She's smart, and she's pretty tough, I can tell you that because I've been campaigning against her for several months, and she's had a pretty interesting set of job experiences.”
Whitman said of Brown, “I think he cares a great deal about California. He has had a long career in public service, and I really like his choice of wife. I'm a big fan of Anne Gust.”
In closing remarks, Whitman noted that California has a $20 billion deficit and the third highest unemployment rate in the nation, as well as troubled schools. She cited her business leadership experience and pledged to run the government more efficiently. “I would be the governor who says no to wasteful spending so we can turn that money to invest in the vital services we really care about. I promise you I will fix our education system, and if you give me the honor of going to Sacramento, I will go independently,” she said. I do not owe anything to anybody, and I will do what is right for the people of California, and I will stay in touch with the Latino community. I know--I care about what you think.”
Brown noted that California is richer than 195 nations and would rank as the seventh or eighth richest country if our state were a nation. “ Last year $1.8 trillion was produced and generated by the businesses and people of California. So, yes, we got a problem. We've got this deficit. But we have tremendous potential, and we've been the leader before in aerospace, even in oil in years before that, and in computers and software, and we can be the leader again in renewable energy and innovating water investments and all the rest.” He cited his experience as a Governor, Attorney General, Mayor and son of a former Governor. “When I was growing up, my father was running for office as a district attorney, and he always instilled in me a sense that public service was honorable,” he concluded. “I have the know-how, I have the values, I care about the people. It's not just about business and tax breaks. It's about human beings and giving the powerless more power.”