Debra J. Saunders

In the course of some 100 minutes, Whitman proposed a moratorium on new regulations, loosening workplace rules and enacting "targeted tax relief" to keep businesses in California. She pledged to interview her top 300 appointees personally, with one-third coming from the private sector.

Like Poizner, Whitman argues that job creation will have to take care of the state's fiscal woes in the long run. In the end, I was skeptical of her call for tax cuts (in the face of a $20-billion state budget shortfall) and of her proposals for balancing the budget, in part through hiring attrition. But I also thought she understands what employers need to keep them in California, hopefully hiring more workers.

I still don't know why GOP voters are supposed to trust Whitman to take on Jerry Brown, when they don't even know if she can outtalk Poizner.

I wondered afterward if maybe Team Whitman should try to make a virtue out of her strong-arm tactics. After all, the next governor is going to have to cut state spending in ways that will invite the wrath of entrenched political forces that usually get their way. (Hence the growth in state government by about 30 percent under both Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis.)

Asked to rate Schwarzenegger, Whitman said she had "a lot of respect" for him. But: "The results are not good." No lie. No one argues that Schwarzenegger did what he set out to do.

Maybe Californians need a ruthless, imperious governess to steamroll the usual opposition. Maybe the professionals who claim to want a level playing field need to get leveled.

I still want to see Whitman facing tough follow-up questions and not ducking unscripted events. But as Sacramento sinks ever into the red, I have to wonder if California's "Hail Caesar" moment is coming.

Debra J. Saunders

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