As Election Day draws closer, invective rages in California

Jerry Brown says Meg Whitman is a billionaire who’s trying to buy the California governorship to give herself and other wealthy people big tax breaks while slashing vital public services, not to mention treating her hired help shabbily.

Whitman says Brown is an over-the-hill political retread who’s a captive of public employee unions, wants to raise taxes on recession-hammered Californians, and is insensitive to women to boot.

Their duel for the governorship, filled with personal invective and trivia, is entering its final stage. Democrat Brown, seeking another stint as governor 28 years after leaving the office, and Republican Whitman, trying to convert business experience into a political career, appear to remain functionally tied.

While Brown leads in some polls, at best he’s only a few percentage points ahead, and there are enough still-undecided voters to tip it either way. In fact, a recent poll showed Whitman was winning the undecideds just before it was revealed that she had employed, apparently unwittingly, an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper and then fired the woman.

The revelation became a media sensation, and Brown clearly rocked Whitman during their second debate in Fresno, accusing her of evading responsibility for her former housekeeper’s welfare.

But just days later, Brown himself was rocked by an accidentally recorded phone message in which a woman in Brown’s inner circle referred to Whitman as a “whore” for making promises to gain a Los Angeles police union’s endorsement.

Whitman and her allies quickly piled on, dredging up an old Brown interview in which he disparaged the value of mammograms in detecting breast cancer.

A Fox News report said the name-calling Brownie was Anne Gust Brown, the candidate’s wife. “I don’t know who it was,” Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford staunchly maintained.

Lost in this wave of invective, of course, is any meaningful discourse on what the next governor would do, or not do, to repair a badly damaged state government.

The enactment of a new state budget, 100 days after the onset of the fiscal year, is further evidence, if we needed any, of our civic dysfunction. It’s a pastiche of gimmicks and assumptions that probably will fall apart before the next governor takes office in January.

It would be nice if we heard some indications of how Brown or Whitman would deal with the budget and other unresolved issues. But we’re more likely to get another heavy dose of housekeepers and name-callers.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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