Former eBay CEO Whitman announces candidacy for governor today

Former eBay CEO and Republican candidate for California governor Meg Whitman smiles as she speaks to members of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group at the Yahoo! headquarters April 27, 2009 in Sunnyvale, California.
Former eBay CEO and Republican candidate for California governor Meg Whitman smiles as she speaks to members of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group at the Yahoo! headquarters April 27, 2009 in Sunnyvale, California.
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Former eBay chief Meg Whitman formally announces her candidacy for governor today in Fullerton. She’ll launch a statewide radio ad campaign to promote her business experience, just in time for this weekend’s state Republican convention. KPCC’s Frank Stoltze reports that Whitman wants to lead a state party that, like the national party, is struggling with declining registration and competing philosophies.

Frank Stoltze: Until last year, Meg Whitman headed one of the most recognized names in business. Leading eBay, she dealt with thousands of small businesses that used the online auction site.

Meg Whitman: So what I gained at eBay was a tremendous appreciation of small business – the risks, the hardships, the challenges, and the inspired individuals who create these businesses every single day. I also saw how the government could get in the way of those small businesses.

Stoltze: In a recent talk to the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, 53-year-old Whitman sounded tried-and-true Republican themes – cut regulation, including a greenhouse gas law, and downsize government. She wants to cut California’s spending by $15 billion on top of what Governor Schwarzenegger's already cut, reduce the state workforce by 17 percent, and shrink public employee pensions.

Whitman: We're going to have to shrink the size of the civil service. We're going to have to have new civil servants come in under a different deal, and my estimate probably is that we will have to renegotiate this because it is going to bankrupt the state. And it is not just the teachers, it is everyone.

Stoltze: Whitman’s making her first foray into electoral politics. Her association with a well-known brand name, and her personal net worth of more than a billion dollars, immediately make her a strong contender in a field that includes State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former Congressman Tom Campbell.

Whitman served as an economic adviser to Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign last year. But she only joined the GOP two years ago.

Some party activists who dominate Republican primaries are suspicious of her – in part because she supports abortion rights and gun control. Those issues surfaced during her recent talk.

Questioner: You are running in a Republican primary. Voter turnout might place conservative social values ahead of some of the key issues you mention today. How do you balance that in your campaign?

Whitman: While the social issues may be important, my belief is actually the economy – jobs, jobs, jobs – is the number one issue.

Stoltze: To boost support within the party, Whitman recently donated a quarter-million dollars to help Republican voter registration efforts. She promises to reform education and talks tough on immigration – something the GOP grassroots often likes to hear.

Whitman: We have to end the policy of sanctuary cities. As you know, San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles are sanctuary cities where there are ordinances on the books where we do not prosecute immigrants or criminal illegal immigrants.

Stoltze: The statement’s a stretch – Los Angeles police do arrest undocumented immigrants suspected of crimes.

Whitman’s won key support – former Governor Pete Wilson chairs her campaign. Congressman Kevin McCarthy is a co-chair. She would be the first Republican woman nominated for governor. If elected, she’d be the first woman to serve in that office. Whitman doesn’t emphasize this. But she does make sure to mention that she was in the fourth class of women to enter Princeton.

Whitman: I arrived in the fall of 1973 with just over a hundred women in a class of 1,200. And we had a great time for a whole variety of reasons. (laughs)

Stoltze: Meg Whitman is quick to reiterate her management philosophy to anyone who still wonders whether a woman can be an effective governor.

Whitman: So you have to have a spine of steel and in the end, I think the next governor of California needs to know exactly what she believes and she needs to stick it.

Stoltze: Later this week, we’ll hear more about the two other Republicans seeking to succeed Governor Schwarzenegger next year.