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In her own words: Meg Whitman on why she's running for Calif. governor

February 23, 2009 |  8:02 pm

Meg Whitman former president of eBay and current candidate for the Republican nomination for California governor

Occasionally, The Ticket publishes an entire speech, letter or passage from someone in politics so our loyal readers can see for themselves in context what message the speaker is delivering.

Here today we publish a speech by Meg Whitman, former CEO and president of eBay, and a self-described newcomer on the most populous state's political scene. She made these remarks to the California Republican Party Convention last weekend.

She was introduced by former Massachusetts Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has endorsed her candidacy for California governor. Her website is here with more material including biography and videos.

--Andrew Malcolm

Thank you Mitt for that wonderful introduction. And let me take a moment to thank Bill Bennett for his remarks. Now, last week I announced my intention to seek the Republican nomination for governor. So today, I’d like to introduce myself. I’d like to tell you a little bit about who I am and why I’m a Republican. And I want to explain why I’m running to be your governor.

First, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I’ve lived in California for most of the past 28 years. My husband, Griff, is a neurosurgeon at Stanford. I have two sons in college who were both born in California. I graduated from Princeton University with a degree in economics. I was in just the fourth class of women to attend the school.

After Princeton, I went on to Harvard Business School. Business has always been my passion. I’ve had a wonderful 30‐year career, which has included working for some great companies, like Procter & Gamble, Disney, Hasbro, Stride Rite and FTD.

But none of those companies has affected my life as much as eBay. I was President and CEO of eBay for 10 years. And eBay reinforced two important Republican concepts with which I had been raised. The first concept is that America is a nation of free men and women motivated by economic opportunity to achieve great things.

As many of you know, eBay is a marketplace for all types of goods. The products on eBay are posted by millions of individual sellers. And many of those sellers are actually small‐business entrepreneurs –- the types of business that have always powered the American economy.

When I started at eBay in 1998, the company had just 30 employees, $4 million dollars in revenue, and 300,000 registered users. When I left last year, eBay had 15,000 employees, nearly....

Meg Whitman website banner

... $8 billion dollars in revenue and more than 300 million registered users, 12 million right here in California.

But what I’m most proud of is that nearly 1.3 million of eBay’s registered users made most, if not all, of their livings selling on eBay. eBay helped create e-commerce, and in the process, it became a creator of small businesses. Most of all, it became the home of so many inspired individuals –- Americans with the courage and passion to create businesses and jobs.

I ran eBay with those folks in mind. We purposely kept regulation on eBay to a minimum, so that small businesses could innovate. And when we spotted eBay entrepreneurs trying to build businesses, we worked hard to help them grow.

Freed from too many corporate rules, and supported by eBay’s technology and employees, eBay unleashed the entrepreneur in people around the world. And that created thousands of jobs, not only at eBay, but at all the companies that provided the services and products eBay needed to operate.

So, eBay left me deeply committed to the power of small business. I saw first hand what you all know – that job creation and economic prosperity depends on giving small businesses and inspired individuals a chance to succeed.

The second Republican concept that eBay reinforced is that less government is simply better.
When I came to eBay in 1998, I had a limited appreciation for the ways government can impede the growth of business. Frankly, my career to that point had not involved me too closely with taxation, government bureaucracy or regulation.

Well, by the time I left eBay, I knew a lot about taxes and regulation. Time and again I saw government try to tax the success of eBay sellers. And I saw government try to impose unnecessary regulations on hard working people.

I left eBay with a strong belief that government’s role in our lives should be limited. It’s not that government is bad. Small, efficient government that enforces smart policies can be good. But ultimately, government can only help create some of the conditions for prosperity. Prosperity itself is up to each of us.

Now, my interest in running for governor was sparked most by two people – Mitt Romney and John McCain. Mitt was my boss at Bain & Company in the early 1980s. He’s a mentor and a friend and I was thrilled when he asked me to help him run for President.

After Mitt left the race, Sen.McCain approached me to help with his campaign. I knew Senator McCain from years of fighting alongside him to stop Internet taxes. I was deeply moved by my experiences with Mitt and John.

Both men love America. And regardless of your politics, you have to admire their sacrifices, patriotism and love of country. Mitt and John inspired me to think beyond my business career. Watching them these past few years, I began to actively consider a new career in public service and an active role in California Republican politics.

So, as a Republican, I’ve been on a life‐long journey. My parents exposed me to Republican concepts that were reinforced throughout my life and business career. eBay gave me an opportunity to see those concepts at work up close, and I contributed to their success. And my experiences with Mitt and John gave me a deep appreciation for Republican values and the full range of challenges facing Republicans today.

Now, as you all know, I’m new to the political arena. I like the fact that I bring a fresh perspective, a new set of eyes to politics. But being new means most of you don’t know me very well. And there have been questions about my voting record that I want to address.

As you may have read, I’ve been a registered “decline to state” voter since 1998. As the CEO of a public company, with an enormous community of users and employees covering every imaginable political persuasion, I purposely made the decision to register DTS. I felt it was the right thing to do given my role at eBay. Once my eBay tenure was coming to an end and I became more involved with Mitt’s campaign, I changed my registration back to Republican.

But during that same time period, I also failed to vote on a number of occasions. And that was a mistake. There’s absolutely no excuse for it. Every citizen should take time to vote, and on more than one occasion, I didn’t. Voting is a precious gift handed down by generations of Americans. I regret not having delivered my vote on several occasions.

At the end of the day, I’m very certain about what I believe. I’m a Republican, and you’ll find I’m a darn good one. I’ve committed myself to running for one of the toughest chief executive jobs on the planet because I believe Republican ideals, truly and consistently applied, will save this state. And I hope my candidacy will spur renewed interest and excitement in the Republican Party.

As everyone in this room knows, the Republican Party in California is in trouble. To use a business term, we’re losing market share at an alarming rate. Republican registration is at barely 31 percent, 13 points below Democrats, and dropping.

I’ve talked to too many people –- especially young people, women and Hispanics -– who’ve told me they like many Republican ideas, but they don’t vote Republican because they don’t feel welcome.

Well, I plan to work with you to make those voters feel welcome. If we’re going to change the destiny of our state, Republicans have to capture the imagination of all Californians. We have to earn back our credentials as the party of economic prosperity and small, accountable government. We have to be viewed as the party of leadership. These are concepts all Californians understand and will actively support.

So, why do I want to run for governor? Why would anyone want the job today? Well, for me it’s really very simple. I refuse to let Californi a fail.

And make no mistake – California is failing. Our way of life is at risk.

Let me sum it up for you. California’s economy is in freefall. We’re bleeding jobs. Businesses can’t afford to start or stay here… Our children aren’t being properly educate. Our roads and levies are crumbling. Our ports are so congested workers can’t move goods off the docks… California’s middle class is being taxed to the point where they just can’t live here anymor. Our political leadership is paralyzed… And our government’s finances are an absolute mess.

I love California too much to let it fail. And I refuse to sit by and watch it happen. So, let me outline what I propose to do:

First, if I’m elected, I will look at everything through this lens-– does it help create more and better jobs for Californians?

California’s unemployment rate is now 9.3 percent, among the highest in the nation, and well on the way to number one. If we’re going to find our way out of the economic mess we’re in, California has to start producing jobs again. My number one goal as governor will be to help the private sector create 2 million jobs for Californians by 2015. This is the amount we need if we’re going to replace the jobs our economy has stopped producing or is losing to neighboring states. It’s the target we need to hit if we’re going to restore prosperity.

So, how will we create those jobs? We’ll do it by streamlining regulations, restructuring and cutting taxes, spending less, and spending smarter. Let me be more specific on each of these. Let’s take regulation.

Inefficient, unnecessary regulation is an insidious job killer. The time and money spent by businesses applying for redundant permits and complying with conflicting regulations is time and money not spent creating jobs.
We need to change the mindset of the entrenched bureaucracy and reward efficiency. Through simple solutions, like aggressively streamlining approvals and reducing the number of permits required among competing agencies, we can still have the right regulations, while dramatically cutting red tape and costs. This will keep more jobs in California.
Let me now talk about taxes and spending…

And here’s the bottom line/ Hard‐working Californians are taxed out! The trough is empty. And it was empty even before we started talking about raising taxes this past week.
I simply cannot accept the logic coming out of Sacramento these days.

Think about it. Right now, virtually every Californian is facing a revenue shortfall. Whether you’re a business or a family, money is tight. And because the economy is so bad, you can’t raise prices or get a raise.

So, what have the Democrats in Sacramento decided to do? They’ve decided to raise prices to make up the revenue shortfall. Sacramento is going to its boss, you the taxpayer, and taking a raise.
In the real world, businesses and families don’t have that luxury. In the real world, business leaders cut expenses until the company is healthy again. Families cut budgets. If you don’t, you face disaster.

Now, this is the point at which I’m called a political novice for daring to say that California’s government needs to be run more like a business. That maybe, at a time when businesses and families are drastically cutting budgets, Sacramento should do the same.

California’s bureaucracy cannot remain immune to the realities of the real world and real budgets. We should not be in the fiscal situation we’re in, but now that we are, we should not run from our obligation to honestly deal with the problem.

No governor should accept tax increases on hard-working Californians before first slashing payroll and putting the state’s fiscal house in order. Our constitutional officers must be willing to make hard choices for the future of our state.

Continuously raising taxes and fees to pay for more spending is simply unsustainable. And the higher taxes approved this week are devastating. A hard working family with two children making $45,000 a year will be taxed about $700 more per year. A family with three children making $75,000 will pay over $1,000 more in taxes.

Is it any wonder then that California is no longer competitive with the states around it? Of course not… Businesses and people are leaving California because they can’t afford it here anymore.

California today needs very determined leadership. Being governor -– the CEO of this state –- is not a test of popularity. It’s the ultimate test of leadership and conviction.

We need a governor who knows what she believes. A governor who’s committed to holding the line on taxes, while aggressively cutting the cost of government… A governor who’s created jobs. A governor who’s had experience with large budgets and large organizations, and who’ll stick to priorities.

And we need a governor who’s willing to talk honestly to Californians about the challenges and sacrifices we must face together. CompromMeg Whitman Republican candidate for California governorise should not be an excuse for trading away core principles. In recent years, we’ve simply let too many opportunities to do the right thing slip away, and now we’re paying the price. Here’s a remarkable example:

Six years ago the state commissioned an unprecedented study called The California Performance Review. The study identified $32 billion in government savings over 5 years –- savings accomplished through common sense, straightforward initiatives to modernize and streamline government.
It included actions like:

Saving $4 billion over five years through better resource management, productivity enhancing technology, and natural attrition of the workforce;

Saving between $700 million and $2 billion dollars annually by consolidating government offices to negotiate better prices with vendors for products and services;

And raising hundreds of millions in revenue for the state by selling some of California’s 22,000 idle buildings and non‐strategic land.

I’ve read the Performance Review cover to cover, twice. And I can tell you that most of the recommendations are no brainers.

Do you know what happened with that study? Not much. It was quietly shelved because Sacramento lacked the political will to do the job.

And that lack of will is now costing us dearly. Because if only half of the projected savings from the Performance Review had been realized, California tax payers might not be facing tax and fee increases today.

Instead, we kept right on spending. In fact, government spending has grown by 80 percent during the past 10 years, while our bureaucracy has increased by 28 percent. Do you feel like our state is 80 percent better? Of course it isn’t.

We can’t govern this way anymore. California is out of time.

As governor, I will commit to at least $15 billion in savings and efficiencies within 4 years. I will commit to a sustained government‐spending freeze. And after a stem to stern review of government programs, I will reduce the size of government while making it more efficient and productive for the citizens of California.

Californians can no longer afford the government they have. I will give them the government they deserve.

But we can’t just cut our way to a better future. We have to decide now what our priorities are. Where do we invest the money we do have?

During the course of the campaign, I’ll have a lot to say about my priorities for the state, but today let me talk just about one area I’m most passionate about. And to do that, let me take you back to eBay for a moment.

eBay did not thrive in Silicon Valley by accident. From the moment eBay’s founder launched the company in his Silicon Valley apartment, the company had access to plenty of intellectual capital. Engineers, programmers, marketers and many other highly trained, highly educated professionals were available to help eBay grow.

Will those people be there in the future? No, not if we continue on the course we’re on.

California has a great university system, but we are ranked at the bottom in the quality of our K‐12 education. In two of the most important skills for elementary school education –- math and reading -– our state ranks 47th and 48th. In science, we rank 43rd.

Almost one in four students drops out of high school in California. And the state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, has nearly a 50 percent high school drop-out rate.

The issue here is not spending. It’s how the money is spent. More than 50% of our state budget, or about $50 billion, goes to education, and we are still failing our children.

If we don’t rededicate ourselves to education with the same attitude Americans have applied to going to the moon and fighting wars, the results will be profound. We will gradually lose our successful workforce. Our ability to innovate and create the next generation of companies and jobs in California -– to create the next eBay, the next Google, the next Genentech -– will diminish. And we will wake up one day in a second‐rate state.

We would never have allowed our military to decline the way we’ve allowed education to decline during the past 30 years. We need to start treating education like the national security priority it really is. California must go back to the top of the list when it comes to our children. Especially in math and science,

California’s schools need to be number one again, and I will commit myself to that goal as governor.
To achieve that goal, we will give parents choice through more charter schools. And we will pay high‐performing teachers, especially in math and science, the kind of money they deserve for ensuring a bright future for our children.

Now, much of what I’ve proposed today is not new. But we’ve avoided the tough solutions for so long that the solutions themselves have been practically discredited. We’ve convinced ourselves that California is ungovernable, that taxes can’t be cut, that government can only grow, that our downward spiral is inevitable.

I refuse to accept that. And I expect to be ridiculed by those who don’t have the courage to look at the facts and speak the truth. We can’t avoid the solutions -– the tough choices -– any longer. We have to act. We have to follow through. We have to lead.

Our task today is to ensure that California remains on that cutting edge. We’ve got to fix the state’s economy. We’ve got to start creating jobs again. We’ve got to bring taxes into line with what hard working Californians can afford, and not what government demands. And we’ve got to treat education like the priority it is.

Only then will California be restored to the place we all know. A place where our communities are strong. Where starting a business is the thrill of a lifetime. Where the weather, the mountains and the open fields have inspired generations of Americans.

And a place where diversity is strength. Where anyone who has the courage to come, work hard, play by the rules, and contribute to the community can live the American dream.

Restoring California will not be easy. But Republicans can do it. And do it we must, because we all love California too much to let it fail.

I invite you to join my campaign. And I look forward to building A NEW CALIFORNIA with you. Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.   ###

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Photo credits: Associated Press (top and middle); MegWhitman2010.com

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