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By Casey Christie
She earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, cut her teeth at Procter & Gamble and Walt Disney Co., and for 10 years ran the online auction site eBay.
After nearly three decades working in the business world, Meg Whitman says it has provided her with the confidence, experience and insight to lead the nation's most populous state out of its worst fiscal crisis in 70 years.
After declining an interview request in early May -- and taking some flak for it on the blogs -- Whitman's team invited The Californian to Arvin Tuesday afternoon where the candidate was touring Grimmway Farms' massive carrot processing facility.
Later the same evening, Whitman was scheduled to attend a $1,000-a-head fundraiser at the home of Barbara Grimm-Marshall, the widow of Grimmway Farms co-founder Rod Grimm.
Inside Grimmway's cool conference room, liberally stocked with bottled water and individual-size bags of baby carrots, the 52-year-old Republican talked about why she wants to be governor of California and why she believes she's the right woman for the job.
TBC: Do you have to be a little bit crazy to want to be governor of California at this time in its history?
Whitman: (laughing) That's a question almost everyone asks me. I will say I was inspired by a couple of things to run for governor.
First was my experience at eBay where I witnessed the power of small business every single day. You know, 1.3 million people make their living selling on eBay.
I saw how you could create the conditions for small businesses to grow and thrive -- and I also saw how the long arm of government, through taxation, regulation and bureaucracy, could make it tough for small businesses.
The second was my work with both John McCain and Mitt Romney (Whitman worked on both their presidential campaigns). They inspired me to think beyond my career in business to a career in public service .... But in the end, the reason I decided to run is simple: I refuse to let California fail.
TBC: If you were in Gov. Schwarzenegger's place right now, what would you do differently?
Whitman: Well, I would like to think that we wouldn't be in the position we are in today because we would have done much of the hard work that would have put California in a much better position -- and I'll give you a couple of examples.
One is Gov. Schwarzenegger, as you may know, commissioned a study called the California Performance Review, which identified $32 billion in savings, in terms of running the government more efficiently. And it was quietly shelved due to a lack of political will in my view.
But if we had only gotten half of those savings, we might be in a very different position today ... I would also have tried to improve the business climate in California. This is something Gov. Schwarzenegger talked about. This is something everybody talks about, but we have to get serious about this. We are losing jobs to Arizona, Colorado, Utah ....
In the here and now, the first thing I would do is looking at every single program, line item by line item ...
I would streamline the number of bureaucrats who work in the government. There's at least 17,000 mid-level bureaucrats that, I think, need to go because we have a government we cannot afford.
TBC: In the past year, at least six former lawmakers have been given government positions that pay more than $100,000. Is that appropriate in light of the fiscal meltdown? Or have times changed?
Whitman: Times have certainly changed. What government leaders need to remember is they are spending other people's money. They have a fiscal responsibility, if not a duty to the taxpayers, to spend money like it was their own.
One hundred thousand-dollar jobs here and there, too many agencies that overlap -- this isn't efficient government.
TBC: Are you opposed to using new taxes or fees to extricate California from this fiscal crisis?
TBC: Where are you on education? You say we have to streamline. Do we streamline education, too?
Whitman: I really have three priorities. One is creating jobs and keeping jobs in California.
Two is curtailing government spending so it's small and efficient.
The third is the K-12 education system. We are now rated 48th out of 50 states in terms of reading and math ... In 1956, we had the No. 1 school system in America ...
It's a complicated situation, but here's what I think we have to do: First and foremost, we have to look at the ratio of spending on overhead -- district administration, all the overhead -- vs. what we are spending in the classroom.
That ratio is out of whack ... Before we start laying off teachers and cutting programs, I think we need to look at that balance, and again, we have to streamline the overhead and streamline the bureaucracy and pour money into the classroom -- which I view in many ways as pouring money into the children.