BROWN-WHITMAN FACE TO FACE: Debate Day from start to finish
September 29, 2010
By Dave Jones
The gubernatorial debate on Sept. 28 gave everyone at UC Davis a political workout:
• Davis College Democrats and Students for Meg who went toe-to-toe on Vanderhoef Quad.
• Faculty members who participated in a forum, before the debate, about what to watch and listen for.
• A dozen students who worked on the Truth Team, instantly checking facts as the debate went on.
• Hundreds of staff, from University Communications and Government and Community Relations and elsewhere, who organized and ran the debate that attracted media attention from around the country.
Attorney General Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor, got in two workouts: as a campaigner, on stage, and as a runner, before the debate, on the indoor track at the Activities and Recreation Center.
Chad Brown, ARC facilities coordinator (no relation to Jerry Brown), said the candidate arrived between 4 and 4:30 p.m., accompanied by a campus police officer and two bodyguards.
He went into a one-person changing room (a gender-neutral restroom, which also serves as lactation room, complete with a shower), emerged in a tracksuit, and proceeded to run about two miles — or about 16 laps.
“I don’t think anyone really noticed who he was,” Chad Brown said. “There wasn’t much commotion.” The candidate changed back into a business suit and left.
Perhaps his run helped him seem at ease in the debate.
“Jerry Brown spoke off the cuff and made some good quips,” said A.G. Block, associate director of the UC Center Sacramento. Brown's Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, "played it very straight, stuck to her message and didn’t show much animation," Block said.
“There were no huge gaffes. Both campaigns accomplished what they wanted to do,” said Block, a longtime observer of California politics who served as editor of the now defunct California Journal.
“I don’t think either candidate made a breakthrough statement,” he added, noting that he did not see much in the debate that might prompt undecided voters to flip one way or the other.
Teaming up for truth
Block moderated the predebate forum at the School of Law and assisted the Truth Team during the debate. The student participants — Democrats, Republicans and independents from the School of Law, the Graduate School of Management and the Department of Political Science — came together at the behest of KCRA-TV, a co-sponsor of the debate.
Minutes after the debate ended, KCRA’s David Bienick presented a live report from the law school classroom where the Truth Team did its work. Bienick discussed one claim each by Brown and Whitman:
• Brown said Whitman’s proposal to eliminate the capital gains tax would boost the state’s budget deficit by $5 billion. But Bienick and the student fact-checkers concluded that no one can say how much the state might lose under her proposal. Bienick explained that the amount of revenue that the state takes in from the capital gains tax is too volatile — because the state prospers when the economy is doing well and people are scoring big in capital gains, and the state does not fare so well when the economy is floundering.
• Whitman cited Oakland’s ranking as the fourth most dangerous city in the nation during Brown’s service as mayor (1998-2006). The Truth Team found that the city’s murder rate doubled during this period from 72 to 145, but the incidence of other crimes went down, resulting in an overall lower crime rate. In fact, Bienick said, Oakland did better than other cities nationwide, where crime also went down.
Candidates talk higher education
If no one recognized Brown at the ARC, then chances are no one from the Davis College Democrats was there at the time. In fact, 50 or more of them were on Vanderhoef Quad, where President Sam Mahood exhorted the crowd by asking “Which candidate is a product of the UC system?” To which the crowd roared: “Jerry Brown!”
Students for Meg, about 25 of them, showed up in green T-shirts and waded into the crowd — despite being outnumbered by union members (firefighters, ironworkers and nurses among them) and other Brown supporters.
At times there was some shoving or elbowing, but no major disturbance. Campus police stood by, along with officers from neighboring agencies and two other UC campuses.
As many as 250 people filled the quad through the afternoon and into the evening.
The crowd included a couple dozen students who rallied as affiliates of the California Public Interest Research Group, or CALPIRG; they voiced neutrality in the election, instead urging both candidates to pay attention to higher education.
Inside Jackson Hall, the candidates addressed that very subject, in response to a question from Marianne Russ, bureau chief for California Capitol Network, Capital Public Radio’s statewide news service.
Russ delivered a question that came from a UC Davis student: “As governor, would you roll back all of the funding cuts to the UC, CSU (California State University) and community college systems?”
Said Brown, in part: “Would I roll them all, all the fees back? Not my first year, with a $19 billion deficit. We have to, you know, get real here. I certainly don't want to see them go up.
Brown, who received his law degree at Yale after completing his undergraduate work at UC Berkeley, continued: “I care about this university. It’s the key to our future, not only our technological future but our intellectual and civic future. So I'm going to do everything I can to protect the university and to advance its cause.”
He said “we’re going to do that by being tough on the budget … living within our means and building up the surplus.”
Whitman, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Business School, said, in part: “Higher education is one of the gems of our education system in California. Of the top 15 public universities in the country, we have six of them. … We cannot lose our innovation edge, which is UC and CSU.
“I want to reduce costs of this government and take $1 billion and put it back in the UC system.”
Whitman said she would go to the UC chancellors and say, “How do you think we should best use this money? If we can give you back $1 billion over the next two or three years, would you want to invest that in research and faculty, reduced fees? What's the best way to make your campuses great for every child? So I’d actually ask them what they thought, since they are, you know, battling the challenges of the budget every single day.”
Twitter and other media
KCRA, which broadcast the debate and made the video feed available to other outlets, provided an audience estimate of 2 million. “In Sacramento, a quarter of all TV sets in use at 6 p.m. were tuned to the debate on KCRA,” said Jim Stimson, assistant news director.
The debate’s audience in Jackson Hall numbered about 950, while around campus, dozens more people gathered for group viewing parties at residence halls, at the Graduate School of Management and at the Memorial Union.
A Sacramento Bee reporter visited the Tercero housing complex, where about 50 students gathered for a viewing party in the commons area. They shouted “Go UC Davis!” when a KCRA camera panned across the exterior of the Mondavi Center, according to The Bee, another of the debate sponsors.
In a Twitter posting at 7:20 p.m., MajorKAFT said: “Shoutout to UC Davis for hosting the debate in our beautiful Mondavi Center. That hall is dope, huh?!”
Chancellor Linda Katehi put it differently, in her address to the Jackson Hall audience minutes before the debate began:
“There really is no better place for tonight’s dialogue,” she said in her prepared remarks. “As the UC campus closest to the state capital, we have a long tradition of civic engagement.
“We are deeply committed to public service, and that commitment has helped make UC Davis a publicly owned powerhouse.”
The debate drew more than 100 journalists, most of whom watched from Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, where they could blog and tweet and work on their stories while watching the debate.
Outside, about a dozen satellite masts sprang up from TV trucks in a dirt lot kitty-corner from the Mondavi Center. Cables ran across the street to Vanderhoef Quad, where TV reporters and camera crews lined up directly across from the performing arts center.
KCRA set up a small stage at one corner of Vanderhoef Quad, while Capitol Public Radio, another of the debate’s sponsors, set up a broadcast booth inside the Mondavi Center — from which the National Public Radio affiliate broadcast all day.
Time for dinner
At debate’s end, Whitman ventured into the media room, answered three questions, and left arm in arm with her husband, saying they were going to dinner.
Brown decided at the last minute to skip the media room, opting to venture outside the Mondavi Center to greet the crowd. The media mobbed him, and he made a quick U-turn and went back into the building.
From there, he and his wife made their way to downtown Davis’ Bistro 33, where the Davis College Democrats had hosted a debate viewing party.
Mahood, president of the student group, said 100 or more people attended the party. Mahood was a late arrival, having watched the debate in person.
“I eventually made it over to Bistro 33 an hour or so after the debate,” he said by e-mail. “Jerry Brown was there, as he actually ended up eating dinner and hanging out at the Bistro. He took a picture with all of the College Democrats there, and thanked us for all of our hard work.”
The students left before 10 p.m. Brown remained, talking with a group that included reporters and Sue Greenwald, a member of the Davis City Council.
Law school Dean Kevin Johnson said UC Davis’ hosting of the debate was “a sign of a maturing university. We’re breaking into the national spotlight.”
Indeed, within two hours after the debate had ended, debate stories — noting the UC Davis venue — had landed online on the front pages of The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
Julia Ann Easley, Clifton B. Parker and Susanne Rockwell of University Communications contributed to this report.
More about the debate
The university's debate website, which includes videos of the debate and the Debate Watch Forum
And another debate next week
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