Friday, August 6, 2010

Tectonic Shift out West?

Women take center stage this November in probably the most important and anticipated election in recent memory. From Nikki Haley in South Carolina to Sharon Angle in Nevada and Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, the ladies look to make their presence felt in the world of politics. But California promises to steal the spotlight later this year. The matchups between Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown, and Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer guarantee to garner the most attention. Two former tech titans face off against two savvy, lifetime legislators.

Can California be a state in transition? It sports a 12.5% unemployment rate, well ahead of the national 10%, and its residents are battling one of the worst state budget deficits in the country. Suprisingly, CA residents favor offshore drilling (46%-41%), a majority favors repealing the national healthcare bill (52%), and most Californians oppose the Department of Justice challenging the Arizona Immigration Law (47%-45%). In a state that tradtionally votes deep blue, can change be in the air?

At stake for the new Governorship is an exciting contest between Meg Whitman and CA Attorney General Jerry Brown. Whitman honed her craft as a corporate leader with Disney, Hasbro and Proctor & Gamble. Another Harvard Graduate School alumni, her finest success came with Ebay: She became CEO when the company had a mere 30 employees and, under her leadership, it grew to a staff of 15,000 while turning "Ebay" into a household name. On the political front, she served as National co-chair for John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. Had he defeated Obama, she would have been on a very short list for Treasury Secretary. Her main focus is job origination through smaller government and cutting or eliminating taxes. With her business acumen, she understands that the reduction of taxes can incentivize people to take more risk and invest their proceeds into small startups that ultimately lead to hiring in the private sector.

Fighting it out for the senate seat she's held since 1992, ultra-liberal Barbara Boxer is pitted against the fiery conservative Carly Fiorina. This race, too, will embrace the growing divide between public perception of economic liberties (lower taxes, decreased spending) vs. government largasse (lavish entitlements, red tape). Fiorina - a confident breast cancer survivor rose to corporate stardom with AT&T, Lucent, and Hewlett Packard (where she eventually became CEO). She's taken heat for her performance at HPQ, cutting some 30,000 jobs during her tenure. But responding to the criticism, she stated that she was just doing the responsible thing any company or family would do during a time of economic hardship. She believes in fiscal restraint. Like her Republican counterpart, Whitman, she feels the private sector and not government is where real, long lasting, sustainable jobs emanate.

Thanks to a depressed attitude concerning the economy, the spirit this November screams "anti-incumbent." Boxer, 69 and seeking a fourth consecutive term, and Brown, a career politican who succeeded Ronald Reagan as California Governor 35 years ago, perhaps seem a little long in the tooth. At the very least, Whitman and Fiorina offer voters fresh faces and new opportunities. In an era of fiscal irresponsibility, two bright entrepreneurs might be just the antidote to California's recent financial ills.

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