SAN FRANCISCO — Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown said Saturday his campaign is about the future and forward-thinking ideas that will spur job growth and lift California out of its recession, such as the state's climate-change legislation that could be overturned by voters in November.
"California is just an amazing place. While we do have a very high unemployment rate and have lost a lot of jobs the last couple of years, this has happened before, seven times since World War II.... We always come back," he told more than 100 voters at a Faith Forum in San Francisco. "The key to California is not the past, although we have a wonderful tradition. The key to California is the future and looking forward."
Brown's Republican rival, Meg Whitman, has been pounding the former two-term governor as a relic of the past with a record of failure. Brown responded Saturday by saying Whitman's economic plan consists of giving tax breaks to her wealthy campaign contributors, a reference to her proposal to eliminate the state's capital gains tax.
The candidate forum at the San Francisco Christian Center was one of 10 joint appearances that Brown called for shortly after the June primary. Whitman declined to attend, citing a scheduling conflict.
The candidates have agreed to two debates, and Whitman, initially noncommittal about additional faceoffs, in recent days has been calling on Brown to attend a third debate in Fresno and a radio debate on KGO-AM (810) in San Francisco.
Brown chided Whitman for not attending the Faith Forum or agreeing to any debates in large urban centers.
"This idea, that what Meg wants, Meg gets, is not really an acceptable pattern. We made a challenge of 10 debates," he told reporters after the event. "It's not what she wants. It's what the community groups in California would like."
Brown spoke for more than half an hour at the event, taking questions from moderator Claybon Lea, vice president of the National Baptist Convention, and from the audience.
Many revolved around spirituality, such as when Lea asked Brown to recall times when his faith had a major effect on his life. Brown recounted his decision to join the seminary (which he later dropped out of, a fact he did not mention) and his time volunteering for Mother Teresa in India, when he helped care for the destitute and dying.
"She would take your hand and say, 'What you do to the least of these, you do to me,' " Brown said of Mother Teresa. "When I would pick up someone and help them shower or shave, I could actually sense this is Jesus in my hands. That faith came from encountering that, but also being in the environment that Mother Teresa has created and the Missionaries of Charity. The power of their faith was very contagious, and made it much easier, made it actually a joy to be in that special place."
The sharpest exchange occurred when a woman asked Brown about the Secure Communities program, in which the fingerprints of people who are arrested are sent to federal immigration officials. Brown, acting as attorney general, refused to allow San Francisco to opt out of the program.
The woman said that under the program, people cited for simple infractions, such as not wearing a seat belt, had been deported. Brown told her that the program only affects people who are arrested and booked, and that there was much "distortion" about the program in the Bay Area.
"Remember, the only people in the [federal] immigration database are those who have already been convicted of a crime or they're in the database because they were arrested, sent back to Mexico or wherever they went, Ireland, came back a second time" and were arrested again, he said.
Many other queries were about education and poverty, with Brown frequently talking about his experience as governor or creating charter schools in Oakland.
The Whitman campaign accused Brown of failing to give any concrete answers for how he would solve the state's economic problems.
Brown, "despite his four decades of experience as a political insider, showed that he still has no plan to help create jobs for the 2 million unemployed Californians," said Darrel Ng, a spokesman for Whitman.