Gov. Jerry Brown's long-shot Republican challenger blasted him for failing to do enough to land a Tesla battery plant Thursday during the only scheduled debate of this year's governor's race, a testy, hour-long exchange that also featured clashes over teacher tenure and the costs of combating climate change.
The debate came the same day that Tesla and Nevada's governor announced that the California-born electric car maker would build its factory near Reno. California was one of five states trying to lure the plant and its 6,500 manufacturing jobs.
GOP candidate Neel Kashkari cited it as an example of the Brown administration's failure to improve California's business climate, which is routinely cited as among the worst in the nation.
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"Governor Brown hasn't done the work," Kashkari said.
Brown responded by saying that Tesla wanted a huge cash payment up front that would have been unfair to California taxpayers. And the price to Nevada for apparently winning the Tesla lottery was indeed steep — up to $1.3 billion in tax breaks over 20 years that includes waving sales and uses taxes, property and payroll taxes.
Thursday's debate is the only time the two are scheduled to meet during the fall campaign and provided the best chance for the little known and under-funded Kashkari to introduce himself to a famously fickle California electorate. The debate in a cramped television studio across from the state Capitol took place on the opening night of the NFL season, a scheduling conflict that likely did not work in Kashkari's favor.
The former U.S. Treasury official nevertheless made the most of the opportunity, hitting the Democratic incumbent on a wide range of issues, from Brown's support to a ban on plastic shopping bags to his refusal to stop what is expected to be a steep rise in gasoline prices next year because of the state's global warming law.
Brown compared the oil companies' threat to boost gas prices to their fight decades ago against California's fuel-efficiency standards, which are now the national norm. In supporting the state's efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, Brown warned of the dangers from climate change, including rising sea levels and more devastating wildfires.
"We have to do something," he said.
Yet Kashkari said the expected price hikes on utility bills and at the gas pump are not fair to average Californians and promised to stop the rules that will increase prices at the pump if he is elected.
He also said Brown is using the revenue from the climate change law to fund his $68 billion high-speed rail project, which Kashkari opposes.
Make no mistake, Kashkari said, "He's raising your gas prices to fund his vanity project."