Thursday, September 04, 2003

Yesterday was the first big gubernatorial debate in California's upcoming recall election. As refreshing as it was to finally see a debate with more than two candidates, five out of 135 was still a bit on the low side (less than 4%). Of course, six were invited, but Big A declined to show, deciding instead to give his one standard speech at CSULB, where he was egged.

The five at the debate (Camejo, Ueberroth, Huffington, McClintock, and Bustamante) had nothing terribly earth shattering to share, but it did help clarify some distinct differences between them. With the exception of all agreeing that the Federal government had no right to strike down California's medical marijuana laws, there were opinions all over the board on all topics.

Ueberroth made no attempt to hide his unfamiliarity with many of the issues of the day. Calling himself a "political neophyte" he said his one job was to come in and get the state's finances in order. Recalling his resume as Commissioner of Baseball, organizer of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and an advisor to the city of L.A. Following the riots of the early '90s, he said he's a problem solver and a fix-it guy. That's nice, and I believe him, but I need a whole lot more in a governor.

McClintock tries hard to say he's not an extremist, but then he opens his mouth and the charade is over. That's all I have to say about that.

Bustamante did his best to distinguish himself as not simply Gray's lap dog, and to position himself slightly to the left of Davis, but wasn't entirely convincing on either point. His closing statement (in which he mangled his main point and flustered himself beyond recovery) started with the Al Gore argument: "It's my turn. I've been training for five years to be the Governor if Gray Davis is ever unable to finish the job." That line of reasoning didn't work for Al, and it probably won't work for Cruz.

Huffington probably surprised me the most and was certainly the most comfortable with the situation - she's frankly had the most prep for what was essentially a panel talk-show. I was pleased with the clarifications she gave on a few positions where I wasn't sure how she stood before. She also gave the most memorable line in her closing statement, "The people of California don't want a recall; they want a revolution." She may be one of the few candidates with media access who truly gets it.

Camejo did me proud as a member of the Green party, and as somebody who voted for him last year, and may do so again next month. He articulated the progressive stance clearly, in a non-threatening way, and without apology. Going where no other candidate would dare, he explained how through loopholes and exemptions that the poorest Californians pay higher tax rates than the richest Californians, adding, "unless you're willing to go there, you can't balance the budget."

The format was basically a panel of journalists asking specific questions of each candidate with one-minute answers, followed by 30-second rebuttals from the other four. The thirty-second rebuttals added nothing to the program or the depth of the subjects covered. I would have rather had no rebuttal time, and brought in another five candidates (at least).

The more exciting action was going on outside of the auditorium, where many of the un-invited candidates gathered in protest. The few sound-bites from that scene that made it on air made me hungry for more. Arianna was right, this is a revolution. The question is whether or not Gil Scott-Heron was also right, "The revolution will not be televised."

We'll be right back after this commercial message:
You saw them in Iraq. Now comes a deck of cards commemorating California's recall. This 52-card deck offers voters a piece of political history and a glimpse at a handful of the 135 candidates. They're coming to 7-Eleven stores in California and available online at:
More on the debate:
* Full Transcript
* Highlight Quotes

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