Who Can Govern California?

Meg Whitman has what it takes

Back Commentary Sep 30, 2010 By Winnie Comstock-Carlson

No political leader can work magic, though virtually all who campaign for public office talk as if he or she can. Our current governor came in as an outsider promising change but had limited success, at least partly because he never learned to work effectively with the Legislature.

Can Meg Whitman, the latest political outsider to run for governor, do any better? I’m betting she can.

My conviction comes, first of all, from her personal and professional history, from her character and behavior. Those who know her describe Whitman as exhibiting traits seen in the most effective leaders:

  • A belief in thoughtful, thorough planning as the basis for building and running an organization
  • A detailed, results-driven management style that sets goals and standards, then holds people accountable for achieving them
  • An ability to build consensus in the face of tough decisions
  • A knack for finding the right person for the right job, and creating an environment in which the best and the brightest can thrive.

These are the kind of traits that helped Whitman build eBay Inc. from a startup with 30 workers to a global company with 15,000 employees and nearly $8 billion in revenue. These are the kind of traits that most of us in business recognize as assets — and too seldom see in government.

My support for Whitman comes also from studying how she would begin to repair our very broken state in three critical areas: job creation, spending reductions and education reform. She goes beyond the usual political platitudes and offers specifics that make sense to me.

For example, Whitman hones in on what she calls job-creating tax cuts, those likely to jumpstart hiring, such as eliminating the tax on manufacturing equipment and capital gains, accelerating depreciation of new business equipment, and providing tax credits for employers who create green tech jobs.

Just as important is the Whitman plan to make it easier for companies to do business by cutting regulatory and litigation costs. I believe that any new regulations should be subject to a tough cost-benefit analysis and only enacted if the public benefit clearly outweighs the negative economic impact.

So does Whitman; in fact, she’s proposing a 90-day moratorium on any new regulations and a review of existing laws. The only exceptions would be those rules governing public health and safety. And, she wants to reform regulations to curb lawsuit abuses and update workplace laws.

Also near the top of my wish list for our state government are responsible fiscal policies. Here again I agree with Whitman’s priorities: a spending cap, state employee pension reforms and employee reductions via hiring freeze and an early retirement program.

A large chunk of the savings from such budgetary reforms would go directly to the state’s university systems, which Whitman correctly recognizes as among our state’s greatest resources. She also proposes several nuts-and-bolts methods for improving public education, including an easy-to-understand grading system for schools, with parents given the option to transfer their children from those with failing marks.

There are no magic bullets here. Instead, we see well-thought plans formulated by an individual who has proven her ability to lead and inspire others to successfully execute. Can she work with a recalcitrant legislature, leading through persuasion and influence rather than executive fiat? Only time will tell.

But for me, Whitman offers our best chance to make positive, substantive change in our public life and to begin the slow process of rebuilding our economy, infrastructure and institutions. I urge you to join me in supporting Whitman in the November elections.

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