The candidate wears Prada

Meg Whitman regards California as a business—but it’s not

Heidi Kriz is an independent journalist currently based in Sacramento

Meg Whitman, one of three major candidates for the next governor of California, seems to regard the state like a pair of last season’s still very stylish boots. Maybe Prada. Maybe Jimmy Choo. Whatever their provenance, they were not outside of her price range. But they are outside the price range of most of the rest of us in California.

So, Whitman, ever anxious to keep her closet up to the minute, hopes to sell her shoes to the highest bidder, à la eBay, where she was the absurdly overcompensated CEO.

I watched the eBay phenom up close and was interested in her role as one of the first women to penetrate the seemingly all-male geek lineup of the Silicon Valley CEOs when I wrote for Wired magazine and Wired News.

But it seems Whitman doesn’t know how to play any other role but that of businesswoman. In other words, Whitman wishes to sell California, lock, stock and barrel, or more specifically, public education, law enforcement, safety services and social services, to the highest bidder.

Almost certainly, that will not be you and me. Whitman, who is a Jane-come-lately to California, eyes the state hungrily like it’s a fattened calf on the auction block. The fatty liver of the poor, bloated creature is apparently stuffed with the excess of government spending on all sorts of “nonessentials,” like teachers, universities, law enforcement, firemen and social services.

If Whitman had her way, she would privatize all these. She thinks that there’s too much government and too many government employees interfering with the smooth, corporate operation of the running of the state. But, according to the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in 2008, California had the third-lowest number of full-time equivalent state government employees among the 50 states.

Whitman does not think like or have the concerns or cares of a middle-class person. She was privileged while growing up and now is a billionaire in her own right. She does not have to worry about the price of gas or food or health care. She does not have to worry if the police or the firefighting force is numerous enough to protect her from crime and injury and devastation of property. She could, and probably does, employ a kind of private army to protect her, and her possessions.

She will likely end up spending about $250 million on her bid for governor; $200 million of her own money, and about $50 million all donated by her corporate buddies, who are crawling all over each other to get those very stylish, now charmingly vintage, boots.

When Whitman is interviewed point blank on the issues, she does not respond. That is not evasiveness; she has no answers. She is not a politician or a civil servant, she is a businesswoman. Just like the one I regarded in Silicon Valley back in the eBay days.

As much as Whitman would like it to be, California is not a business. It is the most populous state in the country, with a range of social problems and attendant costs. Do not sell California to the highest bidder. Place her lovingly in the hands of someone who will take of her best.