California governor candidates Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman clashed over an aide’s description of her as a “whore,” with Brown terming it an “unfortunate” part of a private conversation and Whitman calling it a “personal attack.”
It was the first public apology by Brown, the state’s Democratic attorney general, to Whitman, a Republican and former chief executive officer of EBay Inc., since a recording of the comment was made public last week. It came as the two held their final debate yesterday ahead of the Nov. 2 election.
“Ms. Whitman, I’m sorry it happened,” Brown said. “That does not represent anything other than things that happen in a campaign.”
Whitman, 54, and Brown, 72, are vying to lead the state with the most people, biggest economy and worst credit rating in the U.S. The victor will inherit a domain climbing out of a $19.1 billion budget deficit, with a 12.4 percent unemployment rate as of August.
Brown, California’s governor for two terms from 1975 to 1983 was inadvertently recorded after leaving a voicemail message for a Los Angeles police union official. In a conversation about a potential campaign ad over pension issues, an unidentified aide called Whitman a “whore.”
Asking Brown about the comment, the debate’s moderator, former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, said the word “to many women is the same as calling an African-American the ‘N-word.’”
Brown said he disagreed with the comparison, prompting groans from the audience. He said the campaign had apologized and added, “It’s unfortunate, I’m sorry it happened, and I apologize.”
Whitman replied that voters “deserve better than slurs and personal attacks.” She told Brown, “women know exactly what’s going on here.”
“I was stunned by Governor Brown’s insensitivity to what that word means to women,” Whitman said at a news conference following the debate at Dominican University of California in San Rafael, a suburb of San Francisco. Brown, speaking separately to reporters, said he didn’t think he’d lose votes from women as a result of the comment.
Brown led Whitman among likely female voters in an Oct. 3 poll, 47 percent to 37 percent, according to the latest survey by Rasmussen Reports. Brown also led Whitman among all likely voters, 46 percent to 40 percent, the poll found.
The candidates pledged to reform the legislative procedure for crafting a budget in the wake of a three-month impasse over the latest spending plan. Brown said he’d like to start two months early, while Whitman said she wants to move to a two-year budget cycle.
Whitman ridiculed Brown on his promise to cut 10 percent to 15 percent of the budget in the governor’s office, saying that would amount to $2.7 million in savings, a fraction of the state’s needs.
“If that is your plan for fixing the budget, we have really big problems ahead of us,” Whitman said.
Brown responded that he wanted state leaders “to lead by example.”
He criticized Whitman’s immigration policy on temporary workers, who are a major presence in California’s agriculture industry.
“Temporary workers, if they do right by their employer, they need to actually get a path to citizenship,” Brown said. “She claims that she says no to that. That’s basically treating people from Mexico as semi-serfs.”
Immigration became a central issue in the campaign when Whitman’s former housekeeper, Nicky Diaz Santillan, said in a news conference last month that Whitman continued to employ her even after learning she was in the country illegally. Whitman denied the claim and has called it a political stunt orchestrated by Brown’s campaign.
Whitman said Brown would bring more of “the same old, same old” politics and underscored her experience as CEO of a Silicon Valley company.
“My business is creating jobs, your business is politics,” she said to Brown.
Brown said his years of government experience prepared him to dive into the job.
“I’ve been in the kitchen, I’ve taken the heat,” Brown said. “She’s been in the bleachers, looking from the Internet company at what’s happening in government.”
Brown spent $10.7 million on his campaign from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 and had a fund balance of $22.6 million, according to the California secretary of state’s office. Whitman spent $120.6 million in that period, with $9.2 million remaining.
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