California Dreamin’: From AAA to A

Amid the toxic financial and hard assets that have yet to stabilize, California is on the verge of an American first: state bankruptcy. The new symbol of economic and fiscal dysfunction, California serves up a $42 billion deficit. Couple that with the fact that Standard & Poor’s just recently downgraded the California bond rating — a second time in less than six months — to the lowest of the 50 states (A-rating), and the unintended yet self-inflicted drawbacks of such a large public sector and quasi-welfare state have become the model of what to avoid.

It has been said that presidents usually have a crazy brother. Some that come to mind from the recent past are Jimmy Carter’s brother, Billy, who at times overshadowed his presidential brother as a notorious, reoccurring headline. Bill Clinton had his fair share of problems to deal with due to his brother Roger’s indiscriminate behavior as well. For all the unfairness that was bestowed upon President George W. Bush throughout his two terms, one thing is certain: Jeb Bush is and was not a crazy brother. In fact, he was a successful, two-term governor of the fourth most populous state. During his tenure as Governor of Florida, he focused on and implemented intense reforms in education, government, the budget process, civil service, health care, procurement and race-based programs. He also cut taxes in a state with no income tax. Now Jeb Bush has a new task for his fellow Republicans: to make California a red state. As Mr. Bush recently put it, “California is a center of innovation and a place that looks like the changing demographics of our country, similar to Florida.” Furthermore, Mr. Bush thinks he has just the right person for such an undertaking.

A few weeks ago, Governor Bush made the decision not to run to fill the seat left by out-going Florida Senator, Mel Martinez. He intends to concentrate on his new and blossoming career in real estate, consulting, giving paid speeches, promoting education reform and offering advice to the Republican Party. Most recently, that advice has been offered to Margaret Cushing “Meg” Whitman, former President and CEO of eBay and national co-chair of the McCain campaign. The former governor has since encouraged Ms. Whitman — through personal phone calls — to take the initiative and transform California into a competitive state for Republicans. At first glance one is tempted to think that the former governor has lost it too, being a president’s brother. But rather, on second thought, has Mr. Bush caught on to something that his party has been neglecting for too long?

Many will point to Arnold Schwarzenegger and claim that Republicans already have a red governor in office in the Golden State. That’s a reach. Mr. Schwarzenegger has been a relatively successful “Governator” given the circumstances he inherited, but his redness goes about as far as that his name is designated with an “R” on the ballot. He is an independent disguised as a Republican. He is purple and leans blue on many issues. One needs to look no further than his voting record since 2006. Governor Schwarzenegger had the political capital to implement a necessary spending cap in California. After his ballot initiative failed in late 2005, the governor turned his attention elsewhere as if to throw up the white flag. Thus, as a result, why would the party that champions small-government even dare try to put its foot in the door of a fully-entrenched blue state? Well, it’s a numbers game, and Meg Whitman is good with numbers.

Forget that Ms. Whitman earned a Bachelor’s Degree of Economics from Princeton. Forget that she holds an MBA from Harvard Business School. Ms. Whitman’s successes at eBay, Hasbro, Stride Rite, Walt Disney, DreamWorks and Procter & Gamble have all been well-documented. Ms. Whitman would manage the out-of-control monster of state spending in California. But don’t be fooled, it’s not a tax problem. Taxes in California are some of the highest in the country. The problem is excessive spending. Meg Whitman can put an end to such waste as a reform-minded candidate.

There are different reasons why people are drawn to the Republican Party. However, the overarching theme that holds Republicans together is the basic idea and sanctity of limited government. It is what Republicans share in common. It is certainly what the governors of the Republican Party, the core and heart of the party over the last three years, share in common. Going down the list, the current crop of Republican governors is quite impressive: Mark Sanford of South Carolina, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Sarah Palin of Alaska and Rick Perry of Texas, to name a few. In almost all cases, deficits have either been reduced or the trend of “spending to spend” has been discarded for more disciplined long-term spending.

On February 9, Ms. Whitman announced she was setting up an exploratory committee, normally a precursor to running. She has a distinguished track record as a leader that begs the question: how could California go wrong electing an individual that has brought instant success wherever she has set foot? Envision the female version of Mitt Romney. She’s taken desperate situations and turned them into gold. Ms. Whitman fits what California so desperately needs. She would carry on that tradition of Republican gubernatorial excellence.