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Meg Whitman's misleading campaign to pigeonhole Jerry Brown

October 19, 2010 | 12:04 pm

Untitled-1 It's almost pointless to express dismay over less-than-accurate political ads, but occasionally a commercial comes along that is so intentionally misleading and false (but potentially effective) that it deserves a beating. Put Meg Whitman's recent "hide your wallet" TV spot on Jerry Brown --a screenshot of which appears to the right -- in that category.

The ad alleges -- among other things -- that Brown said he would "ask voters for even more new taxes," citing a KTLA interview with the former governor; it's also probably a very loose interpretation of Brown's promise never to raise taxes without voter support. Here's the part of the KTLA interview Whitman excerpts on her website to support her claim:

Anchor: Let's talk about tax increases. Right now Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento are coming out with a plan to fix our budget crisis, massive deficit.

Jerry Brown:
Isn't that interesting, coming out with a plan in August? I mean the budget came out in January and…

Anchor: Well let me ask you -- Democrats are saying we need to raise taxes across basically every tax bracket, that the vehicle license fee needs to come back, your thoughts?

Jerry Brown: Well as I understand the plan -- I haven't seen it because it just came out -- they want to raise some taxes, lower them for no net increase and when you take in the tax deduction from the federal government it will be even for the taxpayers. Look it's another idea. The problem is it's August, the budget is supposed to be in by June 15th. My proposal, if I'm the next governor, is start in November. If I'm elected I'm going to start the next week. I'm going to get all 120 of those people, who are the [legislators], who get paid, who get pensions, and what are they doing? I don't think they're doing enough and this latest scheme it's got to be vetted to the public. It's like Bell, Calif. You can't operate in the shadows, people have a right to know.

Anchor: You've said the people, any tax increase needs the vote of the people. How realistic is that?

Brown: Not when you start in August. It's realistic if you start in November because then you have time and for example if I were governor and we got our budget deal together, we needed money, you can go to the voters. Or you need big cuts, you can go to the voters. If you start in April you can have a vote in June.

You can judge for yourself whether Brown comes across as being open to increasing; his statements about giving Californians enough time to digest proposed budgets before voting on taxes or cuts may lead you to think so. But Brown does little more than merely entertain the idea. Nowhere in this interview -- or in Brown's official position on raising taxes -- is any promise that he actually plans on going to voters for a tax increase. 

The Whitman ad also oversimplifies Brown's tortured relationship with Proposition 13, noting that he called the initiative "a fraud" before it passed in 1978. Though he did say that, his actions after the 1978 election are more illustrative of his approach to taxing and spending. As Times columnist George Skelton previously noted, Brown initially opposed Proposition 13 but implemented it so swiftly and thoroughly that he won the public support of Howard Jarvis, the antitax crusader behind the law. Whatever Brown may think personally about boosting state revenue, he has an established, well-known record of respecting voters' wishes on taxes.

This isn't to say Brown's position is necessarily the right one for California; in fact, you could argue that Brown deflects on the issue in a way that Whitman -- who signed the infamous antitax pledge -- doesn't. But the Republican's clunky attempts to pigeonhole Brown as a big-spending liberal may not be so well-taken in a state whose voters remember the former two-term governor as something of an unpredictable political chameleon. Judging by polls that show Brown maintaining a lead over Whitman, voters aren't buying the Republican's "truthiness."

-- Paul Thornton

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