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Meg Whitman takes campaign to Philippe’s diner

October 13, 2010 |  3:40 pm

For a moment Wednesday, it seemed like a venerable piece of Los Angeles had dropped into Iowa, where in campaign years the act of getting a sandwich brings the threat of conversation with a political candidate.

Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate for governor, stormed Philippe’s French dip shop near downtown just before the midday rush, shaking hands, talking to voters and performing the difficult task of biting into a beef double dip while discussing one’s jobs plan.

As television cameras rolled, Whitman got off a green campaign bus -- emblazoned with her slogan "Jobs are on the way" -- to tour Philippe’s with general manager Richard Binder, whose family has run the establishment since 1927, 18 years after it was founded in the midst of what is now the 101 Freeway.

She greeted largely supportive diners and, as she tried to eat under the glare of the cameras, told two diners that the state needs to boost employment.

"I think we need someone at the top of the state creating jobs," she said as her tablemates nodded.

Such made-for-television stops are a staple of campaigns in most places, but less so in California, where the impossibility of eating a sandwich with all 17 million voters means most of the campaign is conducted over the airwaves.

But Wednesday’s event gave Whitman a chance for free coverage in the important Los Angeles media market, which she has plastered with paid advertisements since early last spring.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Whitman elaborated somewhat on substantive issues.

She said, as she had during Tuesday’s third and final debate with Democratic nominee Jerry Brown, that she was open to a "fix" on the state’s global warming law, known as AB32.

For most of the campaign, Whitman has emphasized her desire to halt the measure for a year in order to study it, and she also has opposed November’s Proposition 23, which would stall the measure until the jobless rate falls dramatically.

"So I want to freeze the law, the implementation of the law, and fix it," Whitman said. "And here’s what I want to do: Can we change the implementation schedule? Can we change some of the way that we’re going to implement this law so it doesn’t hurt businesses so immediately, like trucking or packaging or manufacturing? But I believe that there is a way to protect the 3% of the jobs that are green jobs while we don’t hurt the other 97% of the economy."

She said such a fix had always been part of her thinking.

"Well, the reason that you would put a moratorium on for a year is to say, gee, will employment decrease, but, more importantly, is there a way to fix AB32 in such a way that it would be good for green jobs, we can still have national leadership on the environment but also not hurt the other 97% of the economy?" she asked.

Separately, Whitman also defended her decision to give public safety employees more generous pension terms than other state employees. She has proposed continuing the existing pension benefit for public safety workers while shifting other state employees to a 401k-style program. The latter is less expensive for the government.

"Public safety put their lives on the lines for us every day," she said. "Rank and file civil servants, you know, have far safer jobs that are I think very equivalent in many ways to the private sector, and virtually all the private sector now is in 401ks which makes it more affordable. I think what you’re seeing is Californians are very concerned about the very generous pension benefits that we are giving to our government workers."

Brown has argued that Whitman exempted public safety workers from key provisions of her pension plan in order to win their coveted endorsements, and that such exemptions undercut the savings Whitman has said she could derive from her plan.

Whitman said Wednesday that she would define public safety employees narrowly, and that it would not include the influential prison guards’ union. That union has endorsed Brown.

-- Cathleen Decker