Saturday, August 7, 2010




Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown will spend a lot of time this fall blasting each other for flip-flops, alleged lying and lack of specificity. There will be talk about illegal immigration, how to balance the state budget and what to do about greenhouse gases and climate change.

But the issue most likely to decide this election is jobs. Both candidates and their handlers (Whitman has a lot more of those than Brown) plainly know this.

Right in the logo atop Brown’s campaign Web site is the line “Let’s Get California Working again.” Meanwhile, Whitman has devoted much of her two slick-paper magazine-style campaign brochures (perhaps the most expensive, elaborate and wide-distributed pamphlets in history) to her ideas for putting more Californians to work.

The Whitman ideas can be summed up in two words: “trickle down.”

Her economic proposals, summed up during several recent campaign stops, amount to the same formula Republican candidates have pushed since Ronald Reagan’s first term as President: Cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy, streamline regulations and you will produce many thousands of new jobs, plus vastly increased tax revenue.

The problem with this is simple: lack of proof. When you give corporations and wealthy individuals tax breaks like elimination of capital gains taxes (a fundament of the Whitman plan), there is no guarantee they will pass the money saved along to the middle class or the poor. In fact, this has never been proven to have happened in human history. The rich tend to stay that way by holding onto their money.

Republicans often cite the fact that employment and tax revenues increased during the last few years of Reagan’s presidency, after almost eight years of his tax cuts. They don’t mention that a major national recession accompanied the first two years of those largest-ever tax cuts, with unemployment both nationwide and in California topping 11 percent, nor do they mention the huge defense buildup in Reagan’s second term, which accompanied the employment increases.

In fact, Whitman’s commercials noting high unemployment near the end of Brown’s second term as governor in 1982 completely ignore that it was part of the national downturn known at the time as “the Reagan recession.”

Which means that while she blasts Brown for not putting forward many job-creating specifics, there is no assurance Whitman’s plan would produce even one new California job.

But Whitman is right about one thing: Much as he touts the record that shows California gained 1.9 million jobs during his earlier tenure in Sacramento, Brown offers little assurance that anything remotely similar would happen if he’s sent back to the governor’s office.

Yes, he touts the idea of a “solar corridor,” a plan very similar to outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “solar rooftops” program, with Brown saying he would put 10 times as many sun-power panels on rooftops than Schwarzenegger has, and would also set up a system of solar-powered car-charging stations along major highways like Interstate 5 and U.S. 101, one way to encourage Californians to buy electric cars and the upcoming crop of plug-in hybrids.

Also, in his current function as state attorney general, Brown has gone to court trying to force the Federal Housing Finance Agency to restart the stalled Property Assessed Clean Energey (PACE) program that provided low-interest loans to homeowners installing solar panels and insulation improvements. Brown essentially claims that cancelling the federal plan amounted to a bait-and-switch on homeowners.

Brown maintains that putting these initiatives together with his call for speeding up the requirement for California electric companies to switch to renewable energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal could produce hundreds of thousands of new, “green” jobs over the next few years.

So Brown touts the job-producing potential of an area where Whitman has been wishy-washy. She says she would suspend enforcement of the greenhouse gas-cutting regulations spurred by the 2006 law known as AB32, but has not helped push Proposition 23, a ballot initiative aiming to do the same thing.

One thing for sure. Whether they debate three times, as Whitman has agreed to, or 10 or more times, as Brown has challenged her to do, jobs will be a key issue when these two eventually meet up.

Says longtime Democratic campaign manager Kam Kuwata, for years a top advisor to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, “The voters will decide on the basis of who they think can do the best job at turning the economy around.”

No one yet knows who that will be. And despite their repeated claims to have said a lot on this subject, each will have to become far more specific about it, or risk losing in November.

Elias is author of the current book "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It," now available in an updated fourth edition. His email address is

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