If you are not from California, you may be in shock at what you are hearing of its financial travails. However, that is nothing compared to what Californians are thinking about their situation.
Remember that Arnold was elected to replace the recalled Gray Davis to resolve the financial mess. Six years later conditions have deteriorated even further; despite double-digit revenue increases for multiple years. The tax base is still too tied to a relatively small group of individuals together with the once-booming housing market and one-time revenue streams. Additionally, nothing has been done to remedy the stranglehold public employee unions have on the legislature and thus the state’s budget. The public employees are paid better than their private sector “employers,” not including the estimated and not-yet-funded liability of $200 billion for pensions.
So if the Terminator wasn’t able to cure the disease that has infected Sacramento, the question is who is going to disinfect the place? More importantly, why would anyone try? Enter Meg Whitman of eBay fame. Ms. Whitman started as the head of eBay when there were 30 employees and $4 million of revenue. When she left, there were 15,000 employees, $8 billion in revenue and universal recognition. Ms. Whitman whetted her appetite for politics during the 2008 campaign, returning to her home base of California to deal with the crushing debacle existing there.
So why would Meg want to tackle such a daunting task? She says in a very believable manner that she cannot stand by and let her adopted home state fail. Having spent twenty years of her career in California, she has seen the decline of the business environment from the best-rated state to the bottom of the list. She has seen leading businesses she knows well, such as Intel, decide to spend billions of dollars to move operations to the neighboring states of Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. Ms. Whitman feels she offers the right skill set to confront the challenges that others may not be able to do.
Though Meg has become a superstar in the business world and is offering herself up to lead our largest and most important state, there is no pretension in her manner. She comes across as a self-assured individual facing the next mountain to climb, knowing she has skills and temperament to conquer the uphill challenge. And while she is a superstar in business, she does not have a posse building up a false mystique.
She came to this struggle with a Republican breeding from birth. Her instincts are that of a total fiscal conservative. Finances are the most pressing issue and almost the only issue right now. In speaking to her it soon becomes quite clear she gets it. After all, there is no one in history that has a better understanding of the aspects of business than Meg. She built a huge operation that was based on creating a business platform for more individual entrepreneurs than McDonald’s, Seven-11, Subway or any others who came before. While the legislature is deaf to the needs of the businesses that provide tax revenues for the state, their concerns are imbedded in Meg’s very being. Without answering the needs of small and large businesses alike, the revenue base in California will continue to dwindle after the recovery finally begins. Someone has to convince the legislature that the immense costs and regulations that have stifled businesses will soon kill the golden goose that feeds their pet projects. Arnold has failed. Meg brings experience that gives her a chance.
Meg understands, however, that there are other issues that leave the long-term viability of California in doubt. Water has become a leading issue as other states have demanded their share of the Colorado River and a drought has engulfed the state. She has a complete grasp of the issue and sees it more as a failure of state leadership to properly meet the needs of the residents than a water shortage. Local leadership is beginning to build desalination plants despite no help from Sacramento and hand-to-hand combat with environmentalists. As people’s lawns turn brown, the leadership’s inability to resolve this issue will play into her hands as she presents long-term solutions that meet both agricultural and municipal needs.
One of Arnold’s big mistakes is the people he has chosen to navigate his course. The Governor keeps backing a left-wing Democrat, Susan Kennedy, as his chief of staff. We are told she is politically aligned with Arnold, but that is hard to buy. The problem is his administration is riddled with Susan Kennedy types and worse. Meg understands that the people she brings with her to manage and tame the huge California bureaucracies are the keys to her success. That is something Arnold has never grasped and has harmed his own potential success.
Meg’s candidacy has sparked great interest throughout California and the nation. She has garnered significant endorsements including many that have switched from her main opponent after her entry into the race. She has attracted a very talented staff functioning in all aspects of a campaign. These endorsements and organization have been fruitful for her fundraising. Despite being perceived as a self-funding candidate she has raised $6.5 million, outdistancing all of her competition. This was done with help of some of the biggest names on the money side of California politics who have jumped on to her team.
Meg faces a tough primary against Steve Poizner, the incumbent Insurance Commissioner, who has some of the same credentials. She would then have to tackle Jerry Brown, the probable Democratic nominee, making another run 28 years after he last left the Governor’s office. But if the economy remains in the doldrums, Meg’s chances look particularly good. If the zoo that Sacramento has become continues on the downward spiral that currently exists, California residents will be looking for someone to accomplish what Arnold could not. Meg looks like the one.
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