Debra J. Saunders

I question how Whitman can cut the size of state government without this hammer. Maybe Whitman thinks she can woo independent voters by rejecting furloughs, but the GOP base should be aware that she just cut a hole in her bucket.

As for Brown, he has no position on furloughs.

As attorney general, Brown filed a lawsuit against Schwarzenegger's attempt to impose furloughs on the employees of state constitutional officers -- which is the sort of turf-protection you would expect from a constitutional officer -- but Brown won't say if he supports Schwarzenegger's furloughs of other employee groups.

For weeks, I have been asking campaign spokesman Sterling Clifford whether Brown thinks furloughs are a valuable and legitimate tool for a governor to wield. For weeks, I have not gotten an answer.

(Clifford has mentioned that Brown did cut the AG's budget. I learned from the AG's brief in opposition to the governor's constitutional office furloughs that Schwarzenegger used his line-item veto to cut Brown's budget.)

Brown's stand on furloughs in general is crucial. The SEIU and other big labor groups have endorsed Brown for governor and put millions into independent expenditure efforts to help Brown's gubernatorial bid by throwing mud at Whitman.

Whitman argues that labor biggies will expect special treatment in return. Brown's boosters say that the former governor is just the sort of quirky independent guy to feast off the unions' sweat and money, but not throw them a meaty bone in return.

They would put Brown in the Jesse Unruh school of Democrats. As in the late Assembly speaker's famous dictum on lobbyists: "If you can't eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women and still vote against them, you have no business being up here." But the way Sacramento lurches these days, Unruh's catchy phrase better fits politicians' attitudes about voters, not lobbyists.

So if Brown won't brandish the furlough blade, voters have every reason to expect him to roll over when SEIU tells him to.

Furloughs are not pretty. The three-days-per-month furloughs imposed under Schwarzenegger and later backed by the Legislature deprived state workers of 14 percent of their pay. Those furloughs ended June 30, but Schwarzenegger reserves the right to use the authority to furlough employees, if a budget crisis so demands.

Both Brown and Whitman apparently have decided to neuter themselves to gain office. Their new campaign slogans could be: Schwarzenegger Lite.

Debra J. Saunders

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