Jerry, Meg to Debate the Recession… of 1982

Checking in with Meg Whitman's campaign today during a stop in the San Fernando Valley, I felt like someone who had come upon a pride of hungry lions who had just eaten a man (is that a bit of Steve Poizner's blood on your claws, Ms. Lion?) and were ready for fresh meat.

One can argue about freshness, but that meat is clearly Jerry Brown. Whitman's campaign has been readying itself for a debate on Brown, and Whitman, during a talk with campaign volunteers in Woodland Hills, made clear she would challenge Brown's record as governor from 1975-1983 on jobs.

So get ready to hear a lot of job statistics from 30 years ago. On Monday, Whitman argued that the unemployment rate went up during his tenure -- to 11 percent (according to Whitman; state figures show a 10 percent figure) when he left office (during a big national recession in 1982). Brown has been running on economic issues, and touting the 1.9 million jobs the state added during his tenure. Both stats are correct, but it's not clear that this debate tells voters much. After all, there is no such entity as a California state economy. California is really a mixture of big regional economies that are driven by a variety of factors. For example, what does the economy of Silicon Valley have to do with economy of the Central Valley?

The job figures also obscure Brown's record. The unemployment figure Whitman cites is from the middle of a big national recession that saw California doing better than most parts of the country (If only were that true now, when California lags the country badly in most economic statistics). And Brown's job creation numbers are relatively meager when compared to the state's history. The more important question for Brown is whether he did enough in terms of investment in infrastructure and education to sustain growth over the long-term. Would California be doing better today if not for Jerry Brown? And if Brown feels he could have done better in this area, what has he learned?

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