Reporting from Los Angeles and Bakersfield — The California campaign for governor, whose candidates have already tested the bounds of honesty, tumbled over the edge Thursday as Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown exaggerated their opponents' stances on education funding and crime.
The day took another scrappy turn when Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared to refer to party nominee Whitman as someone who had sold out to police unions in crafting her pension reform plan. His gibe came via Twitter as he concluded a visit to London.
The governor has not yet endorsed a candidate, but Whitman increasingly has gone after his signature achievement, the state's global warming law.
Both candidates for governor have come under fire for misstating facts, but the latest installments occurred when Whitman began airing an ad that claims that Brown is soft on crime and opposes capital punishment, even for those who gun down law enforcement officers.
"Jerry Brown opposes the death penalty," a police sergeant says in the 15-second spot.
A police officer responds, "Even for cop killers."
In reality, Brown has long voiced personal opposition to the death penalty but has vociferously defended it as the state's attorney general. Brown has taken on at least 500 capital cases as the state's top law-enforcement official.
Brown, speaking at a news conference in Los Angeles, said that for decades he had pledged to uphold the death penalty despite his personal beliefs because it was the will of the people.
Still, Brown avoided using the more heated rhetoric he had used about the matter in the past, such as when he called it a "barbarism that offends every religious sentiment ever conceived."
On Thursday, when asked if he remains personally opposed to capital punishment, Brown said, "I would prefer a society that didn't need to use death as a punishment and I'm not going to go beyond that."
Brown forwarded his own brand of exaggeration when he claimed that his rival would cut billions from schools.
He argued that such a cut is the logical end result of a key provision of Whitman's economic platform, the elimination of the state's capital-gains tax. Such a move, Brown argued, would rip a $5.3-billion hole in the budget, and since education is roughly 40% of the state budget, such a move would equal a $2.2-billion cut to schools.
"I am asking Ms. Whitman either to reject her plan for devastating schools and enriching herself and her friends or explain exactly why it is she thinks this will work," he said. "It sounds like some kind of voodoo economics."
Brown's calculation ignores a key fact: Whitman has repeatedly said that she believes that the amount of money spent annually on education — roughly $70 billion — is the right amount, but that more of it needs to go into the classroom.
Whitman reiterated that stance at a campaign stop in Bakersfield, where she met with supporters and sampled a chili dog.
"Let me be really clear: Education stays fully funded," she told reporters at Philliedog, a local hotdog chain. "I am not at all in favor of any cuts to education."
Neither of the candidates' education plans appears clearly viable. Brown wants to increase school spending, but conceded that doing so depends on tax revenue. Whitman has said that her capital gains tax cut will spur the economy, but she did not answer directly when a reporter pointed out that any increased revenue would not be seen immediately, and schools would suffer during the lag.
The two had sparred about crime and education at their last debate, with Whitman painting Brown as a tool of the California Teachers Assn. and Brown arguing that Whitman exempted public-safety personnel from a key plank in her pension reform proposals to curry their favor.
Neither characterization was dispelled Thursday as independent groups stepped into the race for governor.
A teachers' committee, Concerned Educators for Jerry Brown, launched an ad Thursday that featured teachers and parents calling Brown "a leader we can trust to make our public schools a priority again." The ad does not name Whitman but reiterates the core of Brown's attack on her: "Our kids can't afford another four years of crippling cuts to public schools."
Labor-backed committees have spent more than $19.6 million to help Brown get elected, with the CTA among the biggest contributors, according to an analysis by the California Fair Political Practices Commission. The teachers' union has spent nearly $4 million.
Law enforcement unions have split over the candidates. Committees formed by the California Statewide Law Enforcement Assn. and the Los Angeles Police Protective League have spent more than $2.1 million to boost Whitman, with the former dumping $800,000 this week into radio spots.