This past Monday I had the opportunity to hear Meg Whitman at a small meet & greet. Whitman is one of two Republicans running to be Governor of this great state of California, though why any sane person would do that I’m still not certain. I made the trek with a couple other political hacks and cynics who had similar questions about her sanity, her commitment and her qualifications.
We all came away converts.
First, a few basics. Whitman is richer than God. As the former CEO of eBay, she is a billionaire and she has been spending a bunch of her own money on campaign ads since last year to get her message out. This is in contrast to the other Republican candidate who has done nothing but whine about what Whitman is doing, and Jerry Brown, who finally decided to throw his hat in the ring yesterday and about whom we know too much. I got no problem with her spending her own money because it’s a money game folks, and Jerry Brown’s already got the union money tied up.
Whitman looks better in person than she does on TV (you can’t trust my crappy little cell phone camera). She is poised, well-spoken and confident – she looks and sounds like what you want a political candidate to look and sound like. I know all candidates aspire to that but most come up way short. She sounds sincere because I think she really is sincere – like her TV moto says – ‘say what you mean and mean what you say’. She also has a laser focus and is not easily jolted off-message – which is a talent she will need in order to succeed.
She has three main platform issues and brings every other discussion around to how it relates to her big three:
Whitman points out that jobs are her top priority. Without jobs there is no revenue, there is no recovery, there is no hope. One job killer? Eliminate AB 32 – which drew rousing applause from the house. Next – cut taxes across the board – but not first. First you need to create jobs to get the revenue stream, then you cut taxes to super-charge the momentum of creating more jobs, streamline regulations and make California competitive in the job market again..
Second – cut spending. Judicious and consistent use of the blue-line veto is one avenue she plans to utilize, along with actually reducing the state workforce rather than just reducing the increase. This years budget was ‘slashed’ all the way down to $85 Billion. Whitman suggested this is not as draconian as liberals would have you believe since the last time we had an $85 Billion budget was just 6 years ago. 2004 was a pretty good year in California – it’s just that when the money was rolling in SOME people who should have known better figured it would go on forever. She is again promising, as did Arnie, to review the relevancy pf departments, commissions and regulations.
Third – fix education. There’s no reason, given the amount of money we spend per pupil, which is among the highest in the country, that our students should rank where they do nationally, which is among the lowest. Maybe the 40% going to administration instead of students has something to do with it. Maybe tenuring dead wood forever has something to do with it. Maybe rewarding teachers that do a good job might help.
On why she wants to put herself in the position to try to govern a state many are convinced is ungovernable, she is very upbeat. She knows it is a challenge and one that her background uniquely qualifies her to tackle. She cites her real world corporate experience at Disney, Hasbro, Procter & Gamble and, of course, the fact that she took eBay from 30 employees to 15,000. But in addition to the eBay experience, she also credits it with giving her a unique insight into the true job creation engine – small businesses showing how eBay helped create thousands of small businesses and created a cottage industry which she believes could be extended to the entire private sector.
She appears to be going into it with her eyes open – acknowledging the massive economic hurdles, legislative stalemate, union and special interest control, and the myriad of other problems we know exist in Sacramento. But she has a plan to deal with all of them – one at a time. She believes Arnold had the right idea when he started but he decided to tackle all the major issues right up front. He never fully recovered from the shellacking he took from the unions, teachers, nurses etc in the early days.
One thing you may not know – I’ve not seen it written about out here. Whitman is also an avowed conservationist and environmentalist. She recently purchased hundreds of acres around the Alta Mines outside Telluride Colorado, my home town. Previous owners were trying to keep the acreage out of the hands of developers and were encouraged by Whitmans commitment to leaving the land untouched. She also contributed nearly $1.5 million dollars to help the Town of Telluride purchase their Valley Floor a couple years ago – again making sure this land remained a natural asset rather than being heavily developed. If you’ve read my summer vacation posts, you’ve seen the pictures of the Elk herd that roams this land today instead of the condos and estate homes planned by the former owners. Whitman is taking some flack from the extreme enviro’s questioning how she can claim to be an environmentalist while advocating the overturn of AB32. But I think most reasonable people understand that there are true environmentalists on both sides of the political spectrum. They also understand that AB32 really has little to do with saving either the environment or jobs in this state. Whitman understands that.
I didn’t take any notes at the meet & greet – I just wanted to get the flavor of the event, a feel for the candidate. I’ve gotta tell you I was impressed as were my political hack friends. If she only accomplishes 1/4 of what she plans to it will mark a tremendous improvement for California. And look at it this way – our alternative is Jerry Brown. Nuff said.