CA 2010

Speaking of beleaguered entities, our state of California is due to get a new Chief Executive in the coming 2010 election cycle. It’s shaping up to be an interesting race. For one thing, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that neither party is incumbent in the governorship at the moment, with Gov. Schwarzenegger being a (rather ostentatious) moderate. In addition, the most populous state in the Union has no shortage of high-profile candidates. The Democratic candidates include two big-city mayors (Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa) as well as current Attorney General and former Governor Jerry Brown. Republican candidates include former Congressman Tom Campbell, Insurance Commissioner and former tech businessman Steve Poizner, and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman.

The latter is the focus of the Weekly Standard’s interesting cover story by Fred Barnes. The story addresses some of the challenges facing Whitman. One is her relative lack of political experience; she has not held public office, though she has served as an advisor to the Romney and McCain campaigns. She also may find it challenging to turn her fides in the business world into political support from the broader electorate.

Whitman’s political assets are considerable, though.

Of particular interest to me is that Whitman, a local resident, espouses a style of conservatism that resonates with what we might call the Stanford spirit. For one thing, she emphasizes a high-tech approach to governance. Even though the state has recently taken steps to streamline its IT infrastructure, the contrast between eBay’s internet savvy and the state’s informational labyrinth is pretty stark. Additionally, Whitman’s style is empirical. She is quick to draw on her experience running a multi-billion dollar enterprise in her bid to run California’s own multi-billion dollar enterprise.* For example, she has expressed herself quite frankly on the need to reduce headcount in the face of revenue shortfalls, a lesson drawn from the hardscrabble world of business. Finally, she emphasizes fiscal and regulatory issues over social questions, in keeping with the libertarian bent of Stanford/Silicon Valley conservatism. In several senses, then, Whitman’s candidacy is a product of our own corner of the state.

The bottom line is that Whitman’s bid for the governorship is worth keeping an eye on, particularly for folks in our own community. In my opinion, with double-digit unemployment, an acute housing bust, dysfunctional budgeting, and a host of other problems, California may be well served by Whitman’s leadership style.**

  • Given the latest revenue figures, perhaps “multi-billion dollar enterprise” is a rather charitable way of describing the state government!

** Full disclosure: I’m technically a state GOP delegate, though I do not at this point have a preferred candidate in the race.

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