Liveblogging our meeting with Meg Whitman

Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman is meeting this morning in San Jose with the Bay Area News Group’s combined editorial board (that of the BANG-East Bay papers as well as that of the Mercury News actually, it was only the Merc, my mistake), and I’ll be trying to keep you abreast of what’s said, as it happens.

“Before I started to run, I had to answer the question in my own mind, ‘Is California governable?’” she said. “I’m 100 percent sure we can change the direction of this state.”

She went on the road to meet with current and former GOP governors including Rick Perry of Texas, Jeb Bush of Florida, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, then with California GOP leaders, then with policy experts – and finally with as many Californians as she can reach. “I’ve been doing it now for 22 months.”

She said she knows of many GOP lawmakers with whom she believes she can work productively. “I haven’t spent much time with Democrats to tell you the truth,” she said, though as governor she would move to Sacramento and know every lawmaker by name.

Whitman said she wouldn’t consider, if elected governor, stepping down in a few years to run for vice president under Romney.

On AB 32, California’s landmark greenhouse gas emissions law, Whitman said she has been slow to take a position on Proposition 23 (which would roll that law back) because she has been busy campaigning; she said she’ll announce her stances on this and all other statewide ballot measures in the next week to 10 days.

Whitman noted the law already lets the governor put a one-year moratorium on measures to meet the law’s goals, to be invoked in times of economic distress. She said there are ways to help farmers, truckers and others who would be harmed by AB 32’s implementation without abandoning its goals.

“I have respect for Arnold Schwarzenegger, I believe the results are not what he or we would’ve hoped,” she said, but he did accomplish workers compensation insurance reform and other things. Still, the education system is in trouble and the state’s fiscal situation is a mess.

UPDATE #1: Everybody talks about applying technology to government and rooting out waste, fraud and abuse. Whitman says, “Well, the good news is, I’m going to go after it.”

Schwarzenegger was right when he talked about “blowing up the boxes” to radically revamp government to make it more accountable. “He should’ve done it.”

“Why in the world the government of the State of California owns a printing plant, I don’t know … and there are a million examples like that,” she said.

Whitman defends her plan for eliminating the factory tax – a key revenue source for many cities in Silicon Valley and other places – by saying it’ll make California more competitive with the business environments in other states. Timing is important, she concedes, but our ability to compete is the most important thing.

UPDATE #2: Challenged on the truthfulness of her advertising, Whitman said “the ad is absolutely accurate.” Jerry Brown did argue against Prop. 13 and then take credit for implementing it; did take the state from surplus to deficit; and did on average have higher taxes during his gubernatorial tenure than during Ronald Reagan’s, she said.

The board grilled her on whether more taxes were paid because more money was being made in California, rather than because of actual tax increases. Campaign advisor Tucker Bounds tried to interrupt but was asked to let Whitman answer the question; Whitman said Brown did raise gas taxes.

“I stand by that ad,” she said, asking the board to look at the ads that unions are running against her if it wants to see untruthful ads. “Jerry Brown is no more a tax cutter than half the people out there.”

Whether the deficit at the end of Brown’s tenure was a result of revenue lost to Prop. 13 isn’t the issue, she said; he should’ve cut spending accordingly.

Similarly, she said, Brown ran for mayor of Oakland promising to help save the city’s ailing schools, and now claims the mayor didn’t have the power to do so.

On judicial appointments, “I will probably be more conservative than Gov. Schwarzenegger” – no “legislating from the bench,” lots of care for victims’ rights. As for his appointment of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, she thinks it was a good choice.

Whitman notes she voted for Proposition 8, favoring civil unions but opposing same-sex marriage. She believes the governor and attorney general should be defending the state constitution as amended by Prop. 8, rather than leaving the measure’s proponents to struggle for legal standing to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that it’s unconstitutional. “I don’t think you can have elected officials deciding what’s constitutional and what’s not,” she said.

UPDATE #3: Whitman said we must secure our borders, and then find federal, state and local cooperation to deal with illegal immigration through holding employers accountable, eliminating sanctuary cities and establishing an effective guest worker program, particularly for the agricultural sector.

On the DREAM Act, Whitman said “we have to prove to Americans that we can get our arms around the immigration problem … before we decide to create a path to citizenship or a path to legalization” for those already here. “I think we are putting the cart before the horse … It wouldn’t be the place I would start.”

We’re providing K-12 education to children of undocumented immigrants, but seats at the University of California and California State University campuses are full to bursting, she said; students who are documented should get first dibs. “I think you have to at some point draw a line in the sand … and say we can’t afford to do everything for everybody.”

“It’s a shame” that UC is seeking to give more seats to out-of-state or foreign students who’ll pay more tuition than Californians, she said, repeating her campaign pledge to put an extra billion dollars into the UC and CSU systems (bankrolled by welfare cuts).

California has a disproportionate number of the nation’s welfare recipients, lets them stay on welfare longer than most states and doesn’t have stringent work requirements, she said. “We now have a system that is more costly and frankly I think is not healthy for our communities,” she said. “I want to invest in the vital services that people need … but if we’re not going to run the government efficiently and effectively … that’s not smart either.”

Asked how she’ll get that through the Legislature, she said “everything has to be on the table in terms of what we will look at.” Schwarzenegger said the same, she acknowledged: “There’s no question it is challenging.”

But lawmakers want more than anything to be re-elected, she said, so she’ll veto anything that’s not on point to the crisis we face, and drive the Legislature to be able to take accountability and credit for the state’s future business successes. “I want to focus this Legislature on doing a small number of things really well.”

“Gov. Schwarzenegger and I are very different people with very different backgrounds,” Whitman said.

UPDATE #4: Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado a few days ago told the editorial board he didn’t think Ronald Reagan, who raised taxes as governor, would be welcome in today’s Republican Party. Whitman said “it’s hard to know,” although Reagan as President did see enormous economic expansion. The GOP is evolving, she said, and Reagan if alive today would recognize the party’s economic priorities.

“We live in very uncertain times,” she said. “Fresno looks like Detroit.”

In such times, leadership is vital and people express their concerns in many different ways, she said. If California is to be let out of this recession, it must be via small businesses, she said, with no jobs lost to neighboring states; this election should turn on who best can revive the economy.

Schwarzenegger tried to solve many problems all at once, Whitman said, while she’ll focus in much more on jobs and the economy, limiting government spending and fixing education.

“I think you have to govern with an ideology,” she said, not always from the center like a Schwarzenegger or a Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “At my core I am a fiscal conservative and I will govern as a fiscal conservative … I will govern from right of center.”

Asked to backtrack to an earlier question, Whitman said she would not have vetoed AB 32 – and then, after taking a moment to think about it, decided to parse her answer. Back then she wouldn’t have, she said; today, with unemployment as it is, she would. “I probably would, I need to think about it.”

But she said she’s “leaning against” Proposition 23.

And we’re adjourned.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Jim Doughty

    The latest Jerry Brown ad has inspired me to wonder when we are going to see Meg Whitman face masks with the telescoping nose???? Would we great for Halloween, eh.



  • John l

    Why didn’t anyone ask her why she is willing to spend $130M of her own money on the election?

    Why did not anyone pursue why she is looking to other much smaller economy states for guidance?

    Why did not anyone question the pro Prop23 stand she released to press earlier over the weekend?

    It doesn’t seem anyone questioned her very seriously – read softball questions.

    Why won’t she face reporters and the public?

    What is she afraid of?

    Last but not least, why is she using a polling firm for her calls that is NOT in CA?

  • Drew

    Meg Whitmon is right, elected officials should not be deciding what’s unconstitutional and what’s not. You hear that, GOP? Stop trying to axe the bloody 13th amendment. Christ’s sake, that’s turning the clock back a full century and a freaking quarter on civil rights. INSANITY!

    Fortunately, elected officials don’t need to decide if prop8 is or isn’t unconstitutional, as a United States federal judge already did it for them. Respect the judicial system–written, by the way, into the constitution.

    Furthermore, explain to me the wisdom in amending a state constitution to abridge, rather than guarantee, the rights given to a specific group of people. I voted against the prop relating to parental notification of abortions for the same reason–and I think it’s a good idea! Your own feelings on a policy aside, there need to be strict guidelines on what should be a law and what should be in a constitution; it’s not the place to just stick stuff you couldn’t force through the legislature because you know that the public is more vulnerable to scare tactics, big advertising budgets, and outright lies than the congress is.