By Jose San Mateo
SACRAMENTO – Of all the candidates competing for statewide office on the November ballot, the pair vying for perhaps California’s least significant post offer voters the greatest contrast. In the race for lieutenant governor, Republican Tom McClintock and Democrat John Garamendi put their political differences on full display on Oct. 7 when they squared off for their first debate of the campaign season.Hundreds watched as McClintock, a conservative state senator from Thousand Oaks, and Garamendi, the state’s insurance commissioner, disagreed on almost every single issue throughout the 30-minute debate at the Radisson Hotel in Sacramento.But if the two contenders agreed on one subject, it was in demanding accountability in higher education, especially within the University of California and California State University systems. The lieutenant governor serves as a de facto member of the UC Board of Regents.Cruz Bustamante, the outgoing lieutenant governor and current candidate for state insurance commissioner, told City on a Hill Press, "The lieutenant governor is one vote on the UC regents. We’ve been on the bad side of a variety of issues." McClintock demanded openness and accountability in the UC system, saying, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Universities spend public money, and the public has a right to be involved in the deliberation and expenditure of that money."Garamendi called for an audit of the Regents and "holding people accountable and responsible."In addition, Garamendi stressed that higher education is the key to ensuring skilled labor jobs in California. "The secret for California has always been the education system, because it is a powerful machine to do research and move it out to the business communities," Garamendi said.McClintock, however, argued that tax cuts are the best solution to avoid forcing skilled jobs out of the state."We have imposed such regulatory burdens on the California economy and such heavy taxes," McClintock said, "that we are causing an exodus from California."An audience question about the deployment of the California National Guard to Iraq also elicited distinctions. Garamendi said that the issue went far beyond simply the National Guard, explaining that when the president nationalizes the Guard, it takes deployment control out of the governor’s hands.McClintock did not respond directly to the question, instead focusing on what he saw as California’s porous border with Mexico and the deployment of National Guard troops to the border. He praised Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to send troops to the border."The most important thing we can do is secure our nation’s border," McClintock said. The two candidates went on to chastise each other on a variety of other proposed policies. McClintock accused Garamendi of supporting a "dizzying array of tax increases," while Garamendi castigated McClintock for his reluctance to support any programs."You can’t say no to everything," Garamendi said. "You’ve got to be willing to spend money when it counts."The two entered the debate with most statewide polls indicating a very close race. A poll released Oct. 3 taken between Sept. 14 and 26 by the nonpartisan Field Research Institute (FRI) had Garamendi with a slight lead of 41 percent over McClintock’s 39 percent.The final outcome of the election will have different implications for the two candidates. McClintock, a veteran lawmaker who has served in both houses of the state Legislature, will return to the Senate should he lose the election. He has two years remaining in his second and final term. Garamendi, however, gave up his post as insurance commissioner and will be out of a political job should he be defeated in November."The position is limited, but the kinds of people attracted to it are very skilled," Bustamante told CHP. While many see the position of lieutenant governor as a chance to stand on the soap box, Bustamonte countered, saying, "Standing on the bully pulpit is an important thing."