State Attorney General Jerry Brown and Republican candidate Meg Whitman clashed in their first gubernatorial debate Tuesday night over who voters can trust to get a difficult job done.
The candidates adhered to their respective narratives: Whitman as the outsider who would bring private-sector sensibilities to Sacramento and Brown as the 40-year civil servant who knows how to navigate state politics.
Each argued his or her individual style was necessary to break through a political stalemate that seems to have become endemic to California -- an issue experts say could resonate most with voters.
Brown, who previously served as governor of California from 1975 to 1983, argued that state government is more complicated, more frustrating, and more of a team effort than business is. He said the governor's office would be his last position as an elected official, making him beholden not to special interests but to what's best for the state.
Whitman, a billionaire who formerly headed eBay, said her approach to governing would be to focus on doing three things well: create jobs, improve government efficiency and get the state's school systems back in order. Whitman has poured a record $119 million of her own money into her campaign.
The debate was held at the Mondavi Center at the University of California, Davis and touched on jobs, water, the death penalty, climate change policy, education funding and state employee pension plans.
The next governor, however, faces significant limits to what he or she can accomplish, Santa Clara University political science professor James Cottrill said. The difficulty arises in part because two-thirds majorities are needed to pass the state budget or raise taxes, and thousands of pages of legislation have been passed by ballot initiatives.
"I think the voters are a little bit worn out," Cottrill said. "Most Californians view government as ineffective, and they want a sign that somebody is going to be able to go there and get something done."