By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com The Sacramento Bee
Published: Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

FRESNO – For weeks, Republican Meg Whitman demanded that Jerry Brown, her Democratic rival for governor, debate her in Fresno, clearly hoping it would shore up support in the GOP-leaning San Joaquin Valley and among Latino voters, but Brown stalled.

Whitman finally got her wish Saturday in a bilingual debate sponsored by Univision, but it quickly became a slugfest as Brown pummeled her on how she handled a former housekeeper who was an illegal immigrant – a case that had erupted just days earlier.

Whitman fired Nicky Diaz Santillan in June 2009 after, she says, learning that her employee was an illegal immigrant who had used false documents. But Diaz Santillan’s attorney, Gloria Allred, says a 2003 letter from the Social Security Administration questioning Diaz Santillan’s Social Security number and containing a note handwritten by Whitman’s husband, Griffith Harsh, proves otherwise.

Most of the questions of the two Saturday dealt with either Diaz Santillan or other immigration-related issues, the perfect opportunity for Brown, a veteran political debater, to hammer Whitman as a heartless tycoon.

When Whitman said “Jerry, you know you should be ashamed. You and your surrogates put her deportation at risk. You put her out there. You should be ashamed for sacrificing Nicky Diaz on the altar of your political ambitions,” Brown fired back: “Don’t run for governor if you can’t stand up on your own two feet and say, ‘Hey, I made a mistake.’ … You have blamed her, blamed me, blamed the left, blamed the unions, but you don’t take accountability.”

When he wasn’t attacking Whitman on immigration and other Latino-oriented issues, Brown was pummeling her for proposing to eliminate capital gains taxes – a move she says is necessary for the state to climb out of recession but he says would be a giveaway to billionaires and hurt schools.

Whitman, who had held her own fairly well during their first debate earlier in the week, was rocked by Saturday’s verbal combat.

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