SPECIAL SERIES : 2006 General Election
The Great Debate
Some viewers lament lack of substantive content
October 9, 2006 8:46 PM
While most of the mainstream media treated Saturday’s gubernatorial debate with all due seriousness, not enough seriousness was paid to the disappointment some attendees felt.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and State Treasurer Phil Angelides spoke on a variety of points, including taxes, immigration, state security and education during this election’s only scheduled debate, but for all that was said in the 55-minute debate at Sacramento State University, some walked away with the impression that little of substance was communicated.
“Their answers were way too general and, honestly, for someone who watched this who didn’t know about their backgrounds, they wouldn’t have learned anything from this debate,” said Jason Chu, 20, a business administrative and economics major at UC Berkeley, who was one of the students admitted to the debate.
Most coverage of the debate described the event in fighting language, giving a blow-by-blow account of the candidates’ comments and their implications.
Part of a San Francisco Chronicle headline read, “Schwarzenegger, Angelides also spar on college costs…” and a headline at The Sacramento Bee declared “Dueling priorities offered for state.” The Los Angeles Times said “A jocular Schwarzenegger parried…” and the nationally syndicated Associated Press called the debate “A spirited exchange.”
Keith Bordsen, a Sacramento State student who watched the debate from an outdoor viewing area near Capistrano Hall, where the event was held, described it as not so much a duel as an hour of “bickering.”
“I was not really impressed with the way the moderation was done,” Bordsen said in reference to the performance of the debate’s moderator Stan Statham, president and CEO of the California Broadcasters Association, which co-sponsored the event with Sacramento State University.
According to the CBA, the debate was structured to facilitate a conversation between Angelides and Schwarzenegger. The candidates sat on either side of Statham, who read questions drawn from the general public for the two to answer.
“It didn’t seem all that professional,” Bordsen said.
“I didn’t like the format, honestly. The intention was good, but it allowed the candidates to go off on tangents,” he said. “I would have preferred the traditional debate rules.”
What disappointed some viewers more than the debate’s format was its content.
Kayci Simmons, a Sacramento State student who watched the debate hoping to become a better-informed voter, said. “It gave me an idea of what to look up, but they didn’t get very specific because politicians never do.”
Max Reyes, 21, a political science major at UC Berkeley, agreed.
"They were being politicians and dodging the questions, from what I saw," he said.
Other viewers agreed that the debate lacked substantive information, particularly when it focused on issues of education.
“I think they tried to answer in a comprehensive way, but they gave a general view of what they wanted to do, but they didn’t say how,” said Tony Maldonado, 52, a Sacramento State parent who watched the debate from a university classroom.
Both Schwarzenegger and Angelides discussed their desires to improve the public school system in California. Angelides, at one point, pledged to get 40,000 more students into college by the end of his potential governorship.
Andria Black, a government major at Sacramento State who also watched the debate from the outdoor viewing area, said this was a statement that sounded good at first, but left a lot of logistical questions unanswered.
“Even if you get 40,000 students into college, how are you going to get them to stay in college?” she asked. “How are you going to get them to want to graduate? How are they going to pay for it?”
When Angelides was asked how he planned to facilitate such a move, he replied by first listing what he thinks Schwarzenegger has done wrong.
“I said in the debate today that I believe the governor has done the wrong thing by the university,” he said. “He was wrong to raise tuition. He was wrong to cut back on financial aid. He was wrong to cut the budgets on the state colleges. He was wrong to turn 22,000 kids away from the CSU and UC when they made all the grades.
“When I’m governor we’re going to do the following: We’re going to help more young kids go to college and we’re going to expand the capacities of our universities so that kids can get through in four years,” Angelides said. “It’s the way it was and it’s the way it ought to be in the future of this state.”
Black said it is an attractive promise, but questioned the logistics.
“It’s not about how many you get into school, it’s about the quality of the education,” she said.
Chu agreed with Black in that he didn’t think his concerns over the promise’s impact had been adequately addressed.
“When he makes promises, at first it sounds good, but one drawback in letting more students into the system is that it brings down the competition,” Chu said.
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