Promising to fix the California economy, former Ebay CEO Meg Whitman claims she has a plan to deal with the state’s whopping budget deficits. Those same promises were made by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who told voters he would fix California’s broken economy caused by former Gov. Gray Davis. Arnold won a special recall election Oct. 7, 2003, tossing the incumbent Davis out of office for mismanaging the power crisis, driving the state billions into the red. Now it’s Whitman’s turn to promise the same magic bullet, despite having no experience in state government, having voted for the first time in her life in the last primary June 8, 2010. Meg hasn’t explained how she’ll do better than Arnold trying to impose unpopular fixes to California’s current budget woes on the Democratic legislature, promising to fire some 40,000 state workers, about 10% of the total workforce.
Arnold stepped into office Nov. 17, 2003 calling California’s Democratic legislators “girly men,” primarily for not going along with his draconic budget fixes. Whitman promises to face even stiffer resistance than Arnold, whose wife, award-winning NBC TV journalist Maria Shriver, a lifelong Democrat and niece of President John F. Kenney, balanced out Schwarzenegger’s GOP credentials. Meg has no balance in her political portfolio. She’s a died-in-the-wool Republican, priding herself on making tough financial decisions while at the helm of Ebay from 1998-2008. Meg doesn’t like to talk about a several-hundred-thousand-dollar harassment claim, allegedly smacking around a female employee, costing shareholders dearly. She’s even more reluctant to talk about her dustup with the SEC over improperly cashing in IPO shares while on the board of Goldman Sachs.
Meg has spent more of her own campaign cash than any candidate for any office in U.S. history. After making $1.4 billion at Ebay, the 54-year-old former CEO has a bottomless campaign account on which to run attack ads against the 72-year-old former governor and Yale Law graduate Jerry Brown. While Whitman’s ads highlight Brown’s failures as secretary of state, governor, Oakland major and now state attorney general, Brown has the most extensive work history in California government of anyone seeking higher office. Meg calls Brown a “career politician,” spinning her lack of experience as a real bonus. Her lack of knowledge of state government parallels Arnold, who touted his outsider credentials. When he finally took office in 2003, Schwarzenneger was so clueless he had to hire former Davis chief of staff Democrat Susan Kennedy to talk to the legislature.
Recent polls show Whitman running slightly ahead of Brown, close to the statistical margin-of-error, about 48% to 40%, after spending $120 million and running thousands of TV attack ads for more than one year. Brown just began what amounts to a paltry $44 million ad campaign refuting many of Whitman’s false charges, especially about runaway budget deficits during his stint as governor Jan. 6, 1975 to Jan. 3, 1983. Brown hopes to capitalize on face-to-face debates with Whitman where he hopes to show voters her tendency toward distortion and prevarication. With about 12.4% unemployment, voters are nervous about their futures, promising to vote for the candidate offering the best hope for the future. Whitman can’t answer the basic question of how she plans to get along with a Democratic legislature. She faces a negative coattail from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Meg’s plan for balancing California’s whopping $20 billion-plus budget deficit is to fire a sizable portion of the state’s workforce. Any sizable layoff would mushroom the unemployment rate, perhaps as high as 15%, robbing the state treasury of needed tax revenues to fund K-12 education, the California Community Colleges, Cal State University system and the University of California, reeling from Schwarzenegger’s funding cuts and tuition hikes. Brown, a true student of state government, looks for ways during the current recession to generate revenue and reduce waste, fraud and mismanagement. His Sept. 16 suit against the City of Bell to reclaim salaries of city officials displays Brown’s tough crime-busting side. Whitman doesn’t get that the state can’t be run as a private corporation, simply firing state workers to help balance runaway budget deficits.
Spending up to $200 million of her personal wealth on relentless attack ads, Whitman hopes to brainwash voters into ignoring her lack of experience to manage the nation’s most populous state. U.S. economic recovery depends on California putting its economic house in order. More bickering with the California legislature promises to forestall any hope of recovery inside the state. Meg not only lacks the experience to run the state, she’s philosophically opposed to the Democratic legislature’s mission of providing vital social services to struggling California residents. Her solution to every budget problem, like at Ebay, is to fire as many employees as necessary to balance the books. With the stakes so high, California voters, Republicans, Democrats and independents, can’t repeat the same mistake of voting for a neophyte that can’t get along with the legislature.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.