GILROY, California (Reuters) - “Less is more” should be the mantra of the next governor of California, says the Republican candidate for the job, former eBay Inc chief Meg Whitman.
The billionaire political novice sees the next governor’s main task as keeping the Legislature focused on hauling the most populous U.S. state out of its morass of unemployment, overspending and poorly performing schools -- and she plans to do so by vetoing any other legislation.
After 18 months of full-time campaigning, Whitman says she is an improved campaigner.
She keeps in touch with Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard Co chief and Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from California, and is reaching far beyond the Republican base for support, funded largely by her own bank account.
With her Democratic opponent, state Attorney General and former Governor Jerry Brown, so far largely ceding the airwaves and political field to his wealthier opponent, Whitman pulled ahead in a recent opinion poll. Both sides see the race heating up closer to the November election in a state considered reliably Democratic.
Brown, a political veteran in the public eye for four decades, has disparaged Whitman as a politically inexperienced candidate running on a whim and aiming to use her fortune to buy the state’s highest office.
Whitman has already contributed $91 million to her own campaign in what is expected to be the most expensive nonpresidential election in U.S. history.
Whitman insists the state needs a hard-as-nails leader who does not care about popularity and knows how to balance a budget.
“The state of California will never be a business nor should it be a business, but one thing we can do is pull some business principles to help the state run more efficiently and more effectively,” Whitman said in an interview after touring a garlic farm south of the Silicon Valley technology hub.
A major question is whether she can do a better job than outgoing Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who shares a similar fiscally conservative, somewhat socially liberal approach but had difficulty forging compromise between lawmakers.
“I have led very large groups of people. I have led large organizations,” Whitman said. “I really deeply understand how technology can be used to do more with less. How technology can be used to fight fraud. So I’ve got a very different background from Governor Schwarzenegger.”
‘FOCUS THIS LEGISLATURE’
California faces a nearly $20 billion deficit, double-digit unemployment, and a sense of despair among many citizens who see the state headed the wrong way and governor and lawmakers doing terrible jobs.
“We have got to focus this Legislature,” Whitman said, adding that lawmakers and Schwarzenegger spread themselves too thin in the past year. “This Legislature cannot serve up 2,000 pieces of legislation. The governor cannot sign into law 700 pieces of legislation.”
That means the veto pen for everything else: “Unless there is a public safety emergency -- yes, yes! Because we have got to focus on jobs, and spending and education. ... I would try to stick to that as much as humanly possible.”
At the same time, she expects to join the fray of negotiations in the state capital, Sacramento, hoping to instill a spirit of compromise.
Early efforts show her attracting voters on the other side of the political fence, a political necessity for state office in Democratic-heavy California. Polls show many Latinos have flocked to her side as she has made clear she does not support a tough Arizona immigration law or a former California proposition that aimed to strip illegal immigrants of benefits such as primary education.
But she has said she is tough on immigration, and argued in a radio ad: “Illegal immigrants should not expect benefits from the state of California. No driver’s license and no admission to state-funded universities.”
Detractors say she is telling each side what it wants to hear. She has made it clear, however, she supports primary education for the children of illegal immigrants.
“I say the exact thing to Latinos as I say to Anglos,” Whitman said.
Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney