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Brown Rejects Wilson Debate Ultimatum

October 01, 1994|BILL STALL and DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Republican Gov. Pete Wilson issued a debate ultimatum Friday to Democratic opponent Kathleen Brown: meet him for one hour on statewide public television originating from Sacramento Oct. 14 or there will be no gubernatorial campaign debate at all.

Brown immediately rejected the proposal as insincere in a "Dear Pete" letter sent to the Wilson campaign office by fax. She insisted that any debates be carried to a broader state audience via commercial television in prime time.

Brown also urged Wilson to accept an offer by the League of Women Voters to mediate the months-long dispute between the two campaigns over debate arrangements. The Wilson campaign rejected the league's offer earlier.

The Wilson take-it-or-leave-it stance was contained in a two-page letter from Vigo G. (Skip) Nielsen Jr., the governor's debate negotiator, to California television stations and others that had offered to host gubernatorial debates.

Nielsen said the Wilson campaign was accepting the invitation of KVIE, the public television station in Sacramento, to hold the debate in its studios from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14. The debate would be telecast from Sacramento to other public television stations statewide and "hopefully" picked up by commercial stations as well.

"If Kathleen Brown continues to balk and drag her heels on the KVIE invitation, there will be no television debate in this year's gubernatorial election," Nielsen said, thus seeking to put the blame on her if that should occur.

In fact, Brown has accepted a number of debate invitations, but negotiations have always broken down over format and composition of the panel of questioners. Brown had sought a more open process, with questions coming from an audience or over the telephone from viewers.

Wilson, leading Brown in recent polls, has played the incumbent's strategy by dragging out negotiations and seeking to limit the number of debates.

At one point, it appeared that both candidates would agree to a debate sponsored by the California Assn. of Broadcasters on Oct. 16. Wilson later rejected that venue. Then, he said he would not meet Brown in any other debate until she agreed to the Oct. 14 KVIE meeting.

Brown aides rejected that idea this week, calling it "debating in a box" because of the limited size of audience with access to the Public Broadcasting affiliates in California. The Wilson camp then accused Brown of backing out of her promise to debate Wilson "any time, anywhere."

In her letter, Brown said Wilson had reneged on his promise contained in an Aug. 9 letter: "I believe that the public will benefit from a thoughtful exchange on the issues carried in prime time on statewide television."

Brown added that "your insincere offer to 'debate' on a public television station with a limited and small viewership (this time on a Friday evening outside of prime time) is an old transparent tactic you have dusted off from your political playbook."

She called it "an insult to the people of California."

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