Skip to content

Despite costly campaign, Meg Whitman losing to Jerry Brown

on November 2, 2010

Jerry Brown won his campaign for governor of California — 36 years after he won the office the first time — by defeating businesswoman Meg Whitman, who spent at least five times more more money but could not win the hearts of voters.

Brown, whose first tenure established his reputation as a maverick who dated singer Linda Ronstadt, proposed that California launch its own space program and declared “small is beautiful,” ran this year as a veteran who knew how to handle the Legislature, the state’s deep budget deficits and political dysfunction. At 72, he will be California’s oldest governor.

California’s gubernatorial race is an exception in the country this election. The House majority has turned over to Republicans, Democrats lost their super majority in the Senate, and at least six states traded Democratic governors for Republicans.

Brown has a rich political legacy. He served as California’s governor for two terms from 1975 to 1983, the mayor of Oakland from 1999 to 2007 and attorney general since 2007. He ran for president three times. His father, Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, was governor from 1959 to 1967.

Brown attacked Whitman’s lack of experience in government, comparing her to
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and painting her as a tool of corporate interests.

For Whitman, a career businesswoman and former CEO of internet company eBay, this was her first foray into politics.

Whitman focused on Brown’s ties to labor unions and his difficulty with solving Oakland’s problems as mayor to try and detract from his image.

Whitman has also had to field questions about a voting record even she describes as “atrocious” — she didn’t vote in any elections for 28 years.

Her polling numbers took a dive in late September when an undocumented immigrant, Nicky Diaz, publicly revealed that she worked for Whitman as a housekeeper for nine years, and was mistreated and underpaid.

Whitman responded that she was unaware of Diaz’ status while Diaz was an employee, and fired the housekeeper as soon as she learned that Diaz was not in the country legally. Though the affair may have helped Whitman secure support with conservatives, she lost any hope of the Latino vote.

Whitman campaigned in Latino communities more than most state-wide candidates in the past, producing a handful of Spanish television and radio ads and making appearances in the heavily Latino Central Valley. She has spoken out in support of water rights for agriculture.

But the majority of Latinos in California have typically voted for Democrats since Proposition 187 in 1994, an anti-immigrant initiative that would have denied services such as health care and education to those in the state illegally. Proposition 187 passed, but was later struck down in court as unconstitutional.

Latinos make up 37 percent of California’s population, although they only make up 21 percent of registered voters. Of likely voters, they comprise 18 percent, making their voting influence almost half of their actual proportion of the state’s citizens.

As governor 1975-83, Brown signed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, sought by his political ally Cesar Chavez to empower his United Farm Workers Union who sought contracts with growers in the nation’s No. 1 farm state.

Brown’s support for Chavez led to bitter criticism from growers that he unfairly favored the union, but he helped cement his reputation with Latino voters.

Whitman attracted national attention for spending more than $140 million of her own money on her campaign, more than any other state candidate in U.S. history. In total, her campaign spent about $160 million. She attempted to deflect criticism for her spending by asserting her independence from special interests. Brown spent more than $25 million.

California voters are hoping the next governor can rescue the state from years of staggering deficits – this year’s shortfall was $19 billion, and next year’s is predicted to be $20 billion. The bitter partisan divides in Sacramento have made enactment of budgets an annual exercise delay and political point scoring that will complicate the job for the incoming

The toll for Schwarzenegger, elected on a promise to halt the partisanship, was serious: his approval rating was an abysmal 23 percent in September.

The unemployment rate in California is at 12.4 percent, and both candidates promised to focus on job creation. Whitman’s proposal centered on attracting new business to the state, and Brown’s looked to green technology as a source of jobs.

This election, the country is primarily focused on Democratic losses in the House and Senate, but many of the country’s Democratic gubernatorial seats are vulnerable as well.

Many governors will have the responsibility of overseeing redistricting of congressional and legislative districts. The task arises only once every ten years, after the US Census is completed and legislators need to redraw district lines to account for population changes. The way those lines are drawn can spell political security or instant death for members of congress and legislatures. In many states, it is the governor who signs the legislation enacting the new districts.

Two propositions on the California ballot this election are using the electorate to fight over redistricting – 20 and 27. Prop. 20 extends the reach of an independent redistricting committee formed by an initiative passed in 2008, Prop. 11, and gives them the ability to define congressional districts as well as state. Prop. 27 strikes down Prop.11 entirely, and
brings redistricting responsibilities back to the Legislature.

Natalie Jones’ report courtesy of California News Service.

Check out all of our Oakland elections coverage on our Campaign 2010 page.

Connect with Oakland North on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Oakland North welcomes comments from our readers, but we ask users to keep all discussion civil and on-topic. Comments post automatically without review from our staff, but we reserve the right to delete material that is libelous, a personal attack, or spam. We request that commenters consistently use the same login name. Comments from the same user posted under multiple aliases may be deleted. Oakland North assumes no liability for comments posted to the site and no endorsement is implied; commenters are solely responsible for their own content.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
Oakland North

Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to:

Latest Posts

Scroll To Top