Look, It's Meg!

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The Whitman infomercial, which aired on one Sacramento TV station before sunrise on a Sunday.You had to get up pretty early here in Sacramento if you wanted to catch Meg Whitman's half hour infomercial on one of the two TV stations on which the campaign bought time on this Sunday morning. Which makes a DVR come in handy.

So what new do we learn about the Republican gubernatorial front runner? For those following the campaign, not much. And for those who aren't, the question may be whether the choreographed production -- including "breaks" for her TV commercials and graphics reminding you how to get a copy of her plan -- is seen as enlightening... or just standard infomercial hawking of a product in the wee hours.

The existence of the program was the subject of a bit of controversy last month, when Democratic operatives posted video of one of their observers getting kicked out of the Orange County studio where it was being taped. Of course, you'd never know any of that from watching the program, which clearly was an invitation only affair (spotted on the front row: a former California Republican Party official).

On the substance, the Whitman infomercial repeats many of her now tried-and-true campaign slogans (focus "on just three things" as governor, "100% against amnesty"). But there were a few nuggets that either sounded a bit different, or highlighted issues in a way that merit at least a mention.

Whitman repeats her support of a one-year delay in implementing the state's landmark global warming bill, AB 32. But rather than a more measured response, in the infomercial she flat out calls the law "a job killer."

She also renews a call to begin assigning each public school in the state a letter grade -- modeled, she says, after Florida's similar program that began in 2007. A quick scouring of online news stories suggests the program, while easy to understand for parents, isn't without its challenges in terms of deciding how those grades should be awarded.

On the now familiar Whitman criticism of too many workers employed by the state, the candidate takes a more firm stance about why these positions (40,000, she's promised) can be eliminated. She tells the audience that this is the amount by which the state workforce has grown since 2004.

"It's not front line employees," says the candidate. "It's not the CHP, it's not CalFire, it is the bureaucracy."

A bit more thorough reporting than can be done on a Sunday is required, but even a general review of state data online shows that Whitman's "bureaucrats" must include employees of the state prison system -- where the workforce has grown and costs have noticeably increased. There are now some 69,000 corrections employees (more than half are guards), and as the department's own report states, 70% of the prisons budget comes from staff salaries and benefits.

And finally for now, one of those moments of 'Yeah, but.' Whitman, in answering a question about public employee labor unions, says the following: "The unions will probably put in this year, to this election cycle, over $100 million." Someone in the audience shakes their head in disgust.

No doubt that's a lot of money, and she admits that's probably an amount combined all on races. But here's what she didn't say: it's going to be eclipsed by the candidate herself -- with promises of a gubernatorial effort costing upwards of $150 million and one on which she's personally already spent $60 million.

By the way, good luck catching the infomercial on the natural; it was listed in my DVR's program guide only as "Paid Programming."

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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