CALIFORNIA DESPERATELY needs a dynamic, yet practical, leader for governor who has a blueprint to revive the state's troubled business climate and a realistic plan to streamline government and balance the state's budget without undermining essential public services. Unfortunately, there is no such person on this year's ballot.
Instead, there are two less-than-ideal candidates with widely varying backgrounds, temperaments and political philosophies seeking to be California's next governor. Each has different strengths and weaknesses that present a difficult choice for voters.
Democrat Jerry Brown has been involved in politics his entire life. He has held numerous state offices, including governor from 1975 to 1983 and attorney general for the last four years. He also brought renewed life to Oakland's downtown and was a champion of charter schools during his two terms as mayor.
Brown is a thoughtful person who understands the nuances of public policy and the vagaries of politics in Sacramento, but has had a lack of focus and an aversion to detailed planning. He says he has a plan to solve the state's ongoing budget deficit, but has not offered any concrete solutions.
Although Brown has at times been able to act independently, he continues to have close ties to labor unions, which have financed much of his campaign and could interfere with much-needed efforts to rein in unsustainable public employee pensions.
Republican Meg Whitman's resume is the polar opposite of Brown's. She has not held elective office and has displayed little interest in public policy until recently. Instead, she has had a successful career in business, culminating as CEO of eBay, where she amassed a fortune.
She brings a strong background in business and economics, which is a valuable asset for a governor who will face the challenge of reviving California's struggling economy and balancing a state budget that is $19 billion in the hole.
Unlike Brown, Whitman has presented at least an outline of how she would address the state's economic problems. But several of her ideas, such as cutting 40,000 state employees, slashing welfare benefits, and replacing defined-benefit pensions with 401(k) plans for new state employees, are sketchy and would face steep uphill battles in Sacramento.
There are also unanswered questions about both Brown and Whitman.
Would a Brown governorship be a resumption of his earlier two terms, when he made flawed appointments to the state's supreme court, opened the door to public employee unionization and brought highway construction nearly to a halt? Or would he be the more practical leader he was as Oakland's mayor, where he worked well with business leaders?
Would Whitman be able to operate productively in a political environment, where she would have to win bipartisan support? Or would she be frustrated by the often convoluted political process, where CEO dictates do not apply?
There are no certain answers to these questions and no guarantees that either Whitman or Brown can succeed.
But voters need to make a choice. That decision should be based heavily on who would do the better job of helping revive the state's economy. Without a significantly improved economic climate, it is virtually impossible to solve the state's budget shortfalls, improve public education, maintain important social support programs or maintain the state's infrastructure.
Also, there needs to be a counterbalance to a dysfunctional Legislature that is dominated by the Democratic Party. One-party government, Republican or Democratic, is not the best way to move forward in a state that needs bipartisan consensus to make lasting major changes in the way it operates.
For these reasons, we are cautiously endorsing Meg Whitman for governor with the hope that she will be more communicative with the press and public than she has been and will have the patience and perseverance to advance her policies through a less-than-orderly political process in Sacramento.