SAN JOSE -- California’s gubernatorial race is nip-and-tuck heading into the campaign’s final two weeks. Former Democratic Governor Jerry Brown wants his old job back, but former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, a Republican, has other plans. A senior Whitman aide sat down with me and offered a frank state of the race assessment:
Q: Why should non-Californians care about this race at all?
A: Many Americans have a sense that what starts in California spreads to the rest of the country, for better or worse. We set a lot of trends out here, and that undeniably affects the rest of the country. Also, if our state economy isn’t healthy—which it isn’t—it drags down the entire nation’s economic performance. Look at our pension situation. Our crisis here may be more acute than what other states are facing, but the forces that have driven this problem take their cues from California. Part of that is a function of our poor governance, but some of it also has to do with larger political and demographic trends we’re contending with here in California.
Q: When you talk about “forces” that have driven the pension crisis, I assume you’re speaking of unions. New Jersey’s Governor, Chris Christie, was just here campaigning with Meg. He’s making major headway against the labor unions in a very blue state on the other side of the country. To what extent is Meg Whitman studying his example?
A: We were very excited to have Governor Christie come visit because he is a model for how to approach these issues. Meg understands that Gov. Christie has been a success story so far because he’s creating a blueprint for how a Republican can govern in a Democratic state and achieve results. Meg is paying a lot of attention to [Christie’s] battle with the teachers’ unions. In California, those unions just launched another ad this week attacking Meg. We know that if we want to change education, we’ll need Christie-like success and courage. We also love the movie Waiting for Superman, which depicts a number of public school students in failing schools competing for coveted spots in a charter school. Meg had a gut-level reaction to this film and hopes everyone gets a chance to see it.
Q: Are “Nikki-gate” and “Whore-gate” here to stay in this campaign, or are both sides moving on?
A: I can’t speak to what the Brown people are doing, but we’re making a concerted effort to get back to talking about jobs. California has an unemployment rate above 12 percent. When you don’t have a job, all these extraneous issues really don’t matter to you. They actually probably offend and frustrate you.
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