Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman just wrapped up a feisty debate, in which Brown felt compelled to opine on whether “whore” is as bad as the n-word and Whitman struggled to say nothing about Sarah Palin.

There was plenty of substance as well, including a question on the state of Los Angeles police and fire pensions, along with the climate change regulations, immigration, and the power of the California Teachers' Association.

Whitman, down slightly in the polls, went on the attack, going after Brown for appointing Rose Bird to the Supreme Court and taking him to task for being part of the “war on jobs in this state for 40 years.”

Brown wasn't shy either, asking Whitman how much she stood to gain from her proposal to eliminate the capital gains tax.

Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman

Watching Brown speak can be like watching a drunk guy cross an icy street, and he stumbled the most when trying to deal with the “whore” controversy. First, he took issue with Tom Brokaw's claim that “whore” is as bad a slur as the n-word.

“I don't agree with that comparison,” he for some reason felt compelled to say. He then went on to offer some excuses — it was a cell phone, it was garbled, it was five weeks ago — before claiming it might be illegal to record a private conversation. (Of course, he's the one who recorded it by failing to hang up the phone.)  Finally, he got around to saying what he should have said up front: “It's unfortunate. I'm sorry. I apologize.”

After asking about the “whore” remark, Brokaw must have decided he had to balance it out with a question about Nicky Diaz. His question was how Whitman could expect employers to crack down on illegal immigrants if she couldn't figure out that there was one in her own house.

“It broke my heart but I had to fire her,” Whitman said.

Brown saw an opening to take a swipe at Whitman, saying “I don't want to get into that story. It's a sorry tale here. After nine years, she didn't get her a lawyer. That could have been done.”

There was a lot of sparring on pensions, probably a lot of it totally inscrutable if you didn't know what they were talking about already. There was a bit of back-and-forth over Whitman's endorsement from the Los Angeles Police Protective League, and whether that was due to her exemption of police officers from her 401(k) proposal.

Also, it wasn't clear at the end of the night whether Brown is joined at the hip with the public employee unions, or if has the police chiefs in his back pocket. He got the last word, in which he made the case that he knows how to deal with the special interests and get things done.

“I've been in the kitchen,” he said. “I've taken the heat. She's been in the bleachers.”

So who won?

LA Weekly