In the sharpest exchange of the first, and most likely, only debate between the two leading gubernatorial candidates, GOP challenger Neil Kashkari told Gov. Jerry Brown Thursday night that he “should be ashamed” of himself for “fighting for the union bosses” who have contributed to his campaigns rather than “fighting for the civil rights of poor kids.”
“That makes no sense at all,” Brown replied. “That is so false.”
“It’s absolutely true, governor,” Kashkari retorted – three times.
That prompted the moderator, KQED’s John Myers, to step in. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, I don’t think we are going to agree on this issue tonight,” he said. “Governor, we must move on.”
The immediate target of the exchange was Brown’s decision last week to appeal the Vergara v. California ruling that could upend key teacher employment laws, including those determining the length of tenure, and seniority laws that protect teachers from layoffs.
Kashkari, a former high-ranking U.S. Treasury official, is trying to make Brown’s ties to the California Teachers Association a major issue in the campaign. Kashkari is trailing Brown by 16 percentage points, according to the latest Field Poll.
Brown vehemently defended his decision to appeal the Vergara ruling issued by a judge in Los Angeles Superior Court , arguing that the”state constitution requires the Court of Appeal to invalidate the laws of California.”
“As far as bad teachers, they have no place in the classroom,” he said. To that end, he said signed Assembly Bill 215, which will make it easier to dismiss teachers accused of egregious misconduct, and will streamline other suspension and dismissal procedures. But he pointedly pledged to do more on the issue if necessary. “If it is not enough, we will do further next time.”
He conceded that tenure laws may help protect a small number of teachers – the 1 to 3 percent of ineffective teachers described in the Vergara trial – but suggested that a far greater problem are other factors holding children back, including “the lack of language, lack of income, the disproportionate funding in the schools.”
“Those are major factors,” he said.
Brown said the policies he had promoted were addressing those issues: Passage of Prop. 30, the initiative approved by voters two years ago that is generating billions of dollars of extra tax revenues for schools, and the Local Control Funding Formula that is targeting billions of state education funds to low-income students and English learners. He described the funding formula as a “revolutionary education reform that puts more money into those classrooms where challenges are the toughest.”
Brown referred to his experience at the Oakland Military Institute, a charter school he founded in 2001 when he was mayor of the city. It serves mostly low-income students whom he said “come from homes where they speak no English, are from homes with single parents who have uncertain jobs,” and who face “gunfire on the streets.”
“Those kids were under stress,” he said. All these factors, he said, “obviously have some impact” on how students do in school.
The exchange came on the same day that Kashkari posted an eight-minute online video labeled a “mini-documentary” that in addition to criticizing Brown for his position on Vergara v. California, seemingly blames Brown for all the shortcomings of the state’s public schools, including the fact that it trails most other states in per capita income support.
In a preview of his remarks during the debate, Kashkari charged that Brown’s interests lie not with California, but with the “union bosses that have been funding his career for 40 years.”
The CTA has endorsed Brown for governor in all his campaigns for governor. In the video, Kashkari says, “in 2010 the CTA coordinated more than $7 million in campaign contributions for Jerry Brown.”
The “Follow the Money” website of the National Institute of Money in Politics shows that the CTA donated $62,900 directly to Brown between 2006 and 2010, out of just over $150 million it spent on all candidates between 2003 and 2012.
However, a report by California Common Sense shows that the CTA contributed over $6 million to independent expenditure committees that supported Brown. Those contributions, along with over $30 million of independent expenditures from other organizations, “partially offset the $144 million that Meg Whitman donated to her own campaign,” the report noted.
John Fensterwald contributed to this report.