(10/2) — 20:18 PDT — FRESNO — Sparks flew as Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman clashed on immigration and education in California’s first ever Spanish-language gubernatorial debate Saturday.
Whitman, embroiled in a controversy over Nicandra Diaz Santillan, an illegal immigrant she employed as a housekeeper from 2000 to 2009, turned away from the audience of more than 500 at California State University Fresno and faced Brown as she told him he should be “ashamed” of putting Diaz at risk of deportation for his own political gain.
But Brown, who denies being involved in the release of the allegations, accused Whitman of not taking responsibility for a mistake and pointed out that Whitman has repeatedly said employers should be held accountable for hiring undocumented workers.
The heated exchange over Whitman’s housekeeper highlighted several exchanges on immigration, an issue close to the hearts of many Latinos, who constitute about 20 percent of the state’s voters.
Brown said he would work to push comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level if elected, whereas Whitman said she wanted to see the border with Mexico properly secured.
Pressed on whether she would support a path to legalization for the millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country, Whitman refused to answer. “We can talk about that” after the border is secure, she said.
Brown, in backing legalization of illegal immigrants already in the country, suggested that deporting all of them would be impractical. But asked about his opposition to granting illegal immigrants drivers’ licenses, he called the proposal a “piecemeal” solution.
Brown blasted Whitman’s proposal to create a temporary guest worker program to bring in workers in fields such as agriculture, comparing it to bringing in “semi-serfs” to do the “dirty work.” “That’s not right,” he said.
The candidates also split when asked by an undocumented Fresno State student about their position on the DREAM Act, which would offer the children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
Whitman told the student that she was “pleased” by her success, but said she was opposed to such a measure, saying that it was “unfair” for illegal immigrants to be taking college spots from legal residents at a time of tight budgets and scarce college places.
Brown said he would support the measure and attacked Whitman’s stance. Addressing the student, he said that Whitman wanted to “kick you out” of school, calling that “wrong.”
Candidates tangle on education, jobs
Whitman repeatedly said that creating jobs and improving K-12 education were the best way to help the state’s Latino population. She touted many of the economic proposals she highlighted in the first debate, including cutting taxes and reducing regulation.
Similarly, Brown touted his green jobs program, saying that projects like retrofitting inefficient buildings and building new clean electricity generation facilities would put people back to work. He again criticized Whitman’s proposal to cut the state capital gains tax, saying it would increase the deficit or result in cuts to state programs such as education.
Whitman defended the cut, calling the capital gains tax a “tax on jobs” and “innovation.”
Whitman called the high dropout rates for Latino students in California “not acceptable,” proposing to grade schools based on a letter-graded scale and make it easier to start new charter schools to provide alternatives to failing schools. Whitman said she would “preserve funding” for K-12 education, and claimed she would reduce the amount of money being spent on “bureaucracy” in the school system and redirect the money to the classroom.
But Brown defended the state’s existing Academic Performance Index, which grades schools on a score of 200 to 1000, and said letter grades wouldn’t provide any additional information. Brown said he supported transferring more control over education away from “bureaucrats in Sacramento” and to the local level.
Whitman, however, blasted Brown’s record on education as mayor of Oakland. Echoing charges — criticized by independent fact-checking organizations — she has made in television and radio ads, she said Brown had failed to get a handle on problems in the Oakland Unified School District during his term as mayor, forcing the state to step in.
Historic Spanish-language debate held up by technical problems
The debate, hosted by California State University Fresno and sponsored by Univision, the nation’s largest Spanish-language television network, was conducted with questions asked in Spanish and translated into English for the candidates. Spanish voiceover translations were recorded later and provided for Univision’s delayed telecast.
The unprecedented arrangement, which reflects the increasing influence of Hispanic voters in state elections, wasn’t without technical problems. Problems with the translation system caused a delay of about half an hour during the recording of the debate, with the candidates leaving the stage.
Brown and Whitman will debate once more before the election, on October 12 at Dominican University in Marin County.