It’s not too late. The election is still weeks away.
Democracy demands it.
Free speech would applaud it.
And all California voters need it.
Why can’t Gov. Jerry Brown and Molly Munger debate their different tax initiatives?
Proposition 30 is Brown’s.
Proposition 38 is Munger’s.
Neither individual is shy. Both are highly educated lawyers. Munger from Harvard, Brown from Yale.
Both come from privileged backgrounds and well-connected (not to say rich) families. Yet, both have forsaken idleness for devotion to public service.
Brown’s extensive political life is well known.
Munger is less so. The daughter of Charles Munger, vice-chairman of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, she earned her “street creds” in the civil rights arena.
According to The Huffington Post:
“The 63-year-old daughter of billionaire Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Vice Chairman Charles Munger traces her taste for activism to a pivotal point in adolescence. At the age of 13 or 14, she persuaded her father to let her leave her private, all-girls school for the more diverse John Muir High School in Pasadena, where the family lived. Munger calls that conversation with her father ‘one of the great moments in my life.’”
What she saw and learned at that public school – the great divide between have and have-not schools – launched her commitment to both educational reform and civil rights.
After the Rodney King riots, Munger redoubled her efforts, and views her current initiative as the logical extension of her life’s work.
Both Brown and Munger love California. Both believe in their respective tax proposals. And both contend that education will be the beneficiary. Yet, now they are at odds politically and personally.
Originally, Brown and his wife, Anne Gust, tried to dissuade Munger from pursuing her initiative, fearing that two tax proposals would doom both. Munger refused to budge, despite even more Democrats pushing against her. Again, she doubled down, putting her own money into her convictions.
As of Oct. 6, Munger had contributed $28 million to the Proposition 38 campaign. Brown’s Proposition 30 committee has raised $24.5 million (over one-quarter of it from the California Teachers Association).
Nobody is blinking.
Munger argues that Brown’s tax plan revenue will be filtered through the state’s politicians and used to pay off California’s existing pension liabilities, prison costs and budget deficits. Not enough goes to education.
Her proposition guarantees the money goes directly to K-12 education, not through the state legislature, not to schools' administration, or to more buildings. She has the California State PTA on her side.
Brown counters that his plan also gives money to schools, and yes, some money does go to offset state budget deficits and liabilities – without which schools would have to shut down for three weeks a year. He has the public employee unions, most Democratic lawmakers and other school board/stakeholders on his side.
In short, Brown believes that without his tax increase, the state of California will buckle – and public schools with it.
Munger argues that the state probably will go down anyway, but that her tax plan will save K-12 schools.
Furthermore, the Democrats (who will most likely enjoy a veto-proof state legislature come November) can then raise whatever taxes they wish, and/or cut spending. In short, politicians need to do their jobs. Munger is calling Brown’s bluff.
It's a high stakes gamble. Both tax initiatives could also go down in defeat in this recessionary, high gas-price, anti-tax environment. Or both could pass. Whichever one garners the highest number of yes votes wins.
Hence, the need for an intelligent discussion.
Brown and Munger should challenge each other to a debate. If neither makes the move, the press should hammer them to do so. The result need not be eye rolling, shouting, smirking or condescending nonsense. A Brown-Munger debate might actually enlighten the electorate and elevate the atmosphere this political season.
As Munger’s younger brother, Stanford physicist Charles Munger Jr., (and lifelong Republican) told the Huffington Post about his more liberal sister:
"We're respectful, we get along, and we don't consider it a mortal insult if any one of us disagrees. We just expect a reciprocal courtesy … You can vote and disagree and the conversation goes on."
How refreshing would that be? Please, let’s have that debate.