When I sat down to fill-out my vote-by-mail ballot, I found the toughest contest to be for California’s top spot. My two favorite candidates did not make it past the primaries: Gavin Newsom (Democrat from San Francisco) and Tom Campbell (Republican from Orange County). Staring at my ballot, I realized I had to choose between two capable but unexciting candidates. Today I look at the Republican nominee Meg Whitman.
When Meg Whitman first started her campaign for Governor, it was clear that she only wanted to talk about economic issues. She saw that California with it’s anti-business climate was in a fiscal mess, and she presented herself from the very beginning as a successful businesswoman that could cut waste and create jobs. From all accounts, she was an excellent, well-respected and successful executive at eBay. During her tenure as CEO of eBay, the company went from having 30 employees to 15,000.
Her plan appeared to be to focus on her managerial skills and largely stay out of domestic policy. This was fine with me because I take fairly liberal position on social policies, but believe California needs to make painful choices when it comes to fiscal policy (I hope CA policymakers are paying close attention to David Cameron in Britain). If Whitman focuses all her attention on restructuring the California economy and largely stays out of social policy, I think she could be an excellent governor.
One interesting question raised by Whitman’s strategy is whether or not success in the business world translates to success in the public sector. For every successful businessman turned politician such as NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, there are failures such as Donald Rumsfeld, Paul O’Neill, and Dick Cheney. Hey, even George W. Bush had an MBA. Despite my skepticism of the claim that an effective business leader will always be effective in politics, I believe that Whitman has the potential to help steer California’s economy in the right direction. Her being an outsider means that she isn’t beholden to anyone (similar to current Governor Schwarzenegger), but it also means she may not have the political experience to navigate the treacherous waters that is the California legislature.
Whitman’s hopes of focusing mainly on economic issues were quickly dashed. Her campaign took a couple early missteps when she wasn’t able to convey her opinion on hot-button social issues. Since her campaign started, she has taken progressively more conservative stances on political issues. Just today, Whitman announced that she would only appoint judges that support the death penalty. However, many still consider her a moderate within the Republican party.
Meg Whitman has been sliding in the polls recently, with some pundits predicting it is due in part to voter dissatisfaction with how much she is spending on her campaign. Whitman has spent $163 million on her campaign, $141 million of it her own money.
I do not find Meg Whitman to be an exciting candidate. None of the debate appearances or speeches I’ve tuned into has gotten me fired up about her. I have concerns about her social issues and I’m not sure if she’ll be able to accomplish what she promises fiscally with the bitter partisanship that defines the Democratic-dominated legislature. If she wins the election, focuses on the economy while staying mostly neutral on social issues, and is able to get the Democrats to work with her, I believe she can do a lot of great things for the Golden State.
Next Up: A Look at Jerry Brown.