What You Didn’t See at the Untelevised Governor’s Debate

Businessman John Cox (left) and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom were on either side of Delaine Eastin at a January gubernatorial debate hosted by the Empowerment Congress at USC. The sole Cox-Newsom debate, which took place last Monday morning in San Francisco, was not televised.

DTLA - Did you see the governor’s debate last week? Of course you didn’t. Almost no one beyond candidates Gavin Newsom and John Cox did. It wasn’t on TV or video-streamed on the web.

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You could hear it on radio, provided you tuned in at 10 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 9. Rather than reach large crowds with an evening prime time broadcast, the campaign Svengalis chose to stage the sole meeting of Democrat Lt. Gov. Newsom and Republican businessman Cox on the morning of a holiday, Indigenous Columbus Day (I think I got that right). Almost everyone was either working or avoiding politics on their day off.

While the Newsom and Cox campaigns blame each other for the timing and lack of additional forums, the reality is each candidate deserves a stick in the eye. How can the public expect them to deal with California’s most vexing issues when they can’t even deal with each other?

Scenes From the Electoral Funhouse

Rational thoughts aside, I have the visuals everyone missed. Thanks to the trusty Putin-oscope I ordered off Trumpelstiltskin.com, I was able to glimpse the proceedings. They’re detailed below in a timeline, though a word of caution: The Putin-oscope uses a 28K dial-up modem with wires that run through a can of Budweiser and a dead cat, so the resolution was low. I could have gotten some things wrong.

10:00 a.m.: The candidates are in the studio of San Francisco public station KQED FM. Newsom is wearing flip-flops, cargo shorts and a smug look. In front of him is a bottle from his Plumpjack winery and a page of debate guidelines. They read:

Rule #1: Don’t talk about fight club.

Rule #2: You’re so far ahead. Just don’t mess up.

Rule #3: Remember rules 1 and 2.

Cox is clad in the traditional Republic attire of a blue suit and a red tie, with an American flag pin. He’s also got a lapel button that says, “I’m with stupid,” with an arrow pointing at Newsom.

Remembering Gavin Newsom's 2009 Run for Governor

10:02: Newsom instantly mentions wealth disparity and income equality, talks up the idea of the California dream, and follows with, “There’s no Iowa dream, New Hampshire dream. There’s no Nevada dream.” He literally pats himself on the back.

10:03: Cox lashes out at Newsom. “Gavin has been part of the political class that has led the state downward,” he remarks, and sticks his tongue out at his opponent. He references “special interest groups” for the first of about 219 times.

10:04: Moderator Scott Shafer, who does a fantastic job keeping things moving and hitting so many topics, brings up the housing crisis. Cox riffs on the cost of building in California and says it’s far less expensive and much faster in other states. “I sat on local zoning boards,” he proclaims, at which point Newsom cracks up and quickly sketches a picture of Cox, with Xes for eyes and a donut mouth, literally sitting on three members of a housing board. He holds it up. Cox flips him off. 

10:06: Newsom takes up the same subject and mentions property taxes, which opens the door for Shafer to ask if he’s in favor of altering Prop 13, which limits property taxes. Newsom stands up and, as he uses vague words to dodge the question — “everything is on the table,” he says — bends backward like Neo in The Matrix when Keanu Reeves’ characters deftly avoids the bullets speeding toward him. Newsom then bows and sits down.

10:08: Cox accuses Newsom of accomplishing little during his years in office. Newsom parries the thrust and proclaims he has strategies for effective governing, and that Cox has none. They slap fight.

10:10: Cox mentions touring a Sriracha factory. I think he’s talking about worker income, but I lose focus and want to know more about the factory. Can everyone tour it? Do they give you samples? How hot is the sauce?

10:12: Shafer brings up Newsom’s reputation for public spats, citing tiffs with Gov. Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and even the media. Newsom responds by brushing imaginary dust off his shoulders. Then he quotes an African proverb. Go figure.

10:15: Shafer gives Cox similar treatment, mentioning the candidate losing about 53 different past elections. He references Cox’s 2007 comments in which the then long-shot candidate for president posited that gay rights could lead to bestiality and also said, “We have got a problem with transvestite teachers.” Cox literally starts to shrink in his chair, then pops up to proclaim that he has evolved and no longer opposes gay marriage. He smiles weakly. 

10:20: It’s crime time! The candidates address criminal justice reform, Brown signing bills that allow more public access to police personnel records, and parole recommendations. Cox says San Francisco had huge crime problems. “Gavin was mayor here for eight years. He didn’t solve the homeless problem at all, and it’s gotten worse,” he says. He throws a blueberry scone at Newsom, who picks it up and casually remarks, “You could be pro public safety and pro civil rights and due process.” He takes a bite of the scone.

10:25: The subject is still in play, and Cox suddenly remarks, “Under Gov. Brown people are further being priced out of the state. They’re leaving the state in droves.” Newsom hands Cox a trophy with a gold label reading, “First Place for Trying to Change the Subject.” Cox scratches out all but “First Place” and puts it on his debate mantle.

10:28: Gun control comes up. Newsom says that Cox is a longtime NRA member and mentions new state legislation that will require background checks for ammunition purchases. This prompts Cox to state, “I am running to make sure that people in this state have an affordable life, they have schools that are not failing.” That may be why he is running, but it has nothing to do with the topic. Newsom takes back the trophy, writes in “for Trying to Change the Subject” again, this time in black Sharpie, and plops it in front of Cox. Cox knocks it into the garbage.

10:40: A listener question about immigration and sanctuary state and city status reveals more divides between the candidates, with each sticking to expected party positions. “He’s someone who believes very passionately in building the wall,” Newsom declares. “He parrots at, almost every opportunity, Donald Trump and Trumpism, and Trump would have an advocate in Sacramento if he becomes the next governor.” Newsom then slips off his headphones and runs around the room getting imaginary high-fives from invisible supporters. 

A few minutes later, Cox states, “I think every country has a right to determine its borders, and unfortunately the country to the south of us had 26,000 murders last year.” Soon after he adds, “a border wall is necessary.” He stands up and briefly rides the elephant that a supporter has brought into the room.

10:47: On to climate change and the idea of eliminating coal. “I believe the Earth is getting warmer and humans may well have an effect on this,” Cox declares. At the “may,” Newsom doubles over in laughter.

10:52: The topic turns to fracking, and Newsom remarks, “I think fracking is starting to fall on its own petard.” He smiles, dons a beret, pours himself a glass of Plumpjack Cabernet Sauvignon and keeps talking. Meanwhile, everyone else in the studio looks completely baffled and furiously types “petard” into his or her iPhone, trying to determine what Newsom meant and if he bet his campaign manager $50 that he could utter “petard” during the forum. 

10:58: Closing statements. Newsom again mentions wealth disparity, then declares, “I’ve run a campaign that’s been positive.” He stands up and raises his arms in victory, like a guy who didn’t screw up or mention fight club.

“This election is about change versus the status quo,” Cox states when his turn comes. He soon adds, “I will make this state affordable and livable again.” He falls to the ground and does a series of one-armed push-ups just like Jack Palance did at the 1992 Oscars, a move both mystifying and impressive. 

11:00: Newsom and Cox leave the studio, each smiling in self-believed victory and doing Fortnite dances.

Really, it’s too bad this wasn’t televised.


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