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From Big Business to California Politics: Whitman and Fiorina

It certainly looks as though 2010 will be an exciting election year for Californians. As noted in my last blog, both Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina are headed for history, as the first Republican women potentially to be nominated for governor and U.S. Senator from the Golden State. Whitman has declared her candidacy for the top job, and Fiorina has taken out papers to fund raise for a possible run against long-time Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer.

Both women have impressive credentials as CEOs of major corporations, although Fiorina left Hewlett Packard under a cloud four years ago. That business experience may be just what California needs with the state suffering major financial problems, steep drops in employment, inadequate decision-making by its legislators, wasteful boards and commissions, and a disappointing leader.

Neither woman has a rich political background, which perhaps is an advantage in a state and a nation where partisanship prevents progress. For a short while, Fiorina was an adviser to the McCain presidential campaign. But she was released from duty after suggesting that neither John McCain nor Sarah Palin has the ability to lead a major corporation. And perhaps she was right – just not politically correct on the campaign trail.

Whitman was a top fund raiser for Mitt Romney in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination and she stepped down from eBay early last year. Unquestionably, she successfully grew eBay from a small business into a huge company with billions in earnings and a massive stock increase which made Whitman one of the wealthiest Americans. Some believed she left eBay at the right time, as criticism of her corporate-style and judgment was mounting. As a political novice, she enters an election relatively unscathed.

But that clean slate doesn’t stay unmarked long in the world of politics, and already, Whitman and Fiorina are seeing the beginnings of the rough road ahead. In Whitman’s case, she’s been avoiding political debates and relying instead on stump speeches and well-controlled public appearances. The brickbats have begun, targeting her as not ready for primetime. For example, California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who is also running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, has posted a Web site labeled

Fiorina has run into her own challenges recently. For the past few months, there have been reports circulating that Hewlett Packard sold printers to Iran despite a U.S. embargo, including those years when Fiorina was running the company. She has issued her denial and if she does enter the Senate race, voters will have the chance to respond.

Certainly, the world of business is far different from the world of politics. Yet it’s rather disconcerting that both women have spotty voting records. Fiorina registered as a Republican in Santa Clara County in 2000, but didn’t vote in the 2000 and 2004 presidential primaries or in the 2006 primary and general elections. Neither Fiorina nor Whitman voted in the 2003 gubernatorial recall election. Whitman registered to vote in California in 2002, but didn’t register with the Republican Party until 2007. She has voted in about half of the elections since she became a voter in this state.

As the campaigns proceed, opponents will be sure that those records become familiar to voters. Then it will be up to the candidates to determine whether the rough and tumble of their business experience has adequately prepared them for the “take no prisoners” culture of political races.

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