James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Why Meg Whitman can save California

June 9, 2010

As former Goldman Sachs CEO and ousted New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine can attest, a business background hardly guarantees political success. Though California is no startup website, former eBay boss Meg Whitman, now the GOP’s nominee for governor, might have the right skill-set to tackle the Golden State’s fiscal challenges.

Not that getting the top job will be a simple click of a mouse. Although Whitman handily beat primary opponent Steve Poizner 64 percent to 27 percent, it took $80 million to do it. And California is a heavily Democratic state. Candidate Barack Obama won by 24 percentage points over John McCain in 2008. And her opponent in November Jerry Brown, is a former governor and canny pol. But Whitman’s billion-dollar fortune and voter unhappiness with Democrats nationwide might be enough to seal the deal.

Then the fun would really start. The state’s $1.8 trillion economy is afflicted by a 12.6 percent unemployment rate — the nation’s third highest — and a budget gap of $19 billion. And California has at least another $60 billion in underfunded public employee pension liabilities (perhaps as much as $500 billion when adjusted for realistic market returns and volatility), helping it earn the lowest credit rating among the nation’s fifty states.

The dire situation would seem to require a chain-saw-wielding turnaround artist capable of slashing spending and smashing unions. But a governor is not an all-powerful CEO, as many execs-turned-politicos have discovered. Instead of making unilateral decisions, governors must persuade legislatures and interest groups, as well as rally public opinion.

It’s a challenge that would not be entirely unfamiliar to Whitman. True, ebay was a growth business for most of her tenure. But growing the online auction firm into an Internet giant required massaging and nurturing a large and disparate community of buyers and sellers. She had to discern the messages of the marketplace and react astutely. As governor, she would need similar capabilities in balancing the needs of differing constituencies, be they voters, teachers unions or municipal bond investors.

Whitman also understands how government can accidentally create an environment hostile to business. The Tax Foundation ranks California as having the third-worst tax climate in the nation, including high sales and capital gains taxes. The candidate says if she was starting eBay today, she might choose Texas over California. If California voters see things the same way as the Whitman campaign come November, they just might “buy it now.”

Comments

Whitman, and Fiorina, are insults to the Californians. However, through years of debilitating self-inflicted fiscal stupidity the people of California deserve these trophy-seeking buffoons and the non-leaders that will oppose them. Can they “save California”? of course not..only Californians can do that and better wake up soon before PIMCO and other beauties try and walk off with the furniture. My advice to Californians is to take a deep breath and admit that the rotting carcass that was my once-great state requires stern action by real leaders of the stature of Bill Lockyear, former pres. pro-tem of the California State Senate, who at this point probably wouldn’t touch it with a mile long pole..too bad..

Posted by gramps | Report as abusive
 

Unlike gramps, I admire Meg Whitman and she may be up to the task of getting California back on track. The ‘Terminator’ can’t do it, nor could that Gray Davis character. Gerry Brown? Governor Moonbeam? Don’t be absurd. Perhaps it’s time to let a woman with a solid private-sector record take charge and do what needs to be done.

Posted by Gotthardbahn | Report as abusive
 

She will do nothing good for California! She is making promises that aren’t even possible as a governor. Its such a joke, politics these days. She got rich from a site that people sell crap on, now she’s qualified to run a state? California deserves more, but our smartest people are running real companies and taking care of their own families, so we are left with crap like her. How can you admire someone with nothing to show? Plus when she talks, she scares children, its a fact.

Posted by SD5150 | Report as abusive
 

Meg Whitman can save California by moving back to Utah.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive
 

Reuters is doing business as usual, but it needs to answer questions on why it photo-shopped pictures of the clash between Turkish extremists and Israeli soldiers.

This is not a small issue but a major one.

This is the second time that Reuters has been caught fabricating news.

What is the point of reading anything that it publishes if they’re not to be trusted?

http://www.ourchangingglobe.com/reuters- is-up-to-its-old-tricks-again-using-phot oshop-to-obscure-and-pervert-the-truth/

It’s like the old Pravda newspaper.

Soviets used to read it and say, “well we know something happened but not exactly what”.

Posted by eagerwatcher | Report as abusive
 

Big government Democrats in the California Assembly and California Senate have (with help in the past from Jerry Brown and Grey Davis), have ruined this once great state. You can’t just write a blank check to public sector unions year after year after year — it’s unsustainable, and the chickens have come home to roost. It will take a thriving private sector to bring California back from the dead, and it will take leadership from politicians with real-world private sector experience: Meg and Carly.

Posted by tompinch | Report as abusive
 

Government has failed us always, it is time for the private sector to take our country back. The government can’t run anything well. The private sector rarely fails to please. You vote everyday with your choice. The new ladies of California are the only hope to save the state. Congratulation to both of them!

Posted by chimneyrock | Report as abusive
 

“She got rich from a site that people sell crap on, now she’s qualified to run a state?”

What a remarkably stupid comment. Ebay is a huge company and one of the most successful on the Internet. As CEO Meg had to make/meet budgets, motivate people, please stockholders, make tough decisions, etc, etc. Sound like she knows what she’s doing.

Who’s more qualified to run CA? An incompetent doofus ‘community organizer’ who’s never had a real job and who thinks “working stiff” refers to his golf game?

Posted by HypnoToad | Report as abusive
 

The way to win in CA and many other states is to promise to spend money that you don’t have and to continue to kiss the nether regions of the state union employees. “I promise not to cut anything,to continue to spend as in the past and get more taxes from the businesses we have been driving out. ” is a winning slogan. Charge onward to Greece.

Posted by NoLawyers | Report as abusive
 

Meg Whitman actually may just be the right person for the job..and her name will never be forgotten..I’ll leave it at that..

Posted by gramps | Report as abusive
 

Socialism is collapsing, and Jerry Brown can help that process along by finishing what he started.. Whitman, like any Republican, will prolong the agony by negotiating with the Legislature, stupidly believing, like Arnold, that you can do business with liberal fascists. Socialism has to completely collapse to allow freedom to emerge from the ashes. Politics will not solve this problem.

Posted by enviiro-nazi | Report as abusive
 

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