TRANSCRIPT: ABC News Interviews Meg Whitman

ABC NEWS: "I saw Jeb Bush not long ago and I know you met with him"

ByABC News
November 19, 2009, 10:36 AM

Nov. 17, 2009 -- ABC NEWS: "I heard you say that you thought the court decision striking down key provisions of Proposition 187 was rightly decided. Are you concerned that you might alienate conservative voters who thought 187 was the right policy?"
WHITMAN: "I would say having spent now, almost 9 months, traveling this state from Eureka to the Inland Empire to San Diego, the number one issue on the minds of voters is jobs. So this is where I spend the bulk of my time. And when I'm asked about immigration, I tell them what I think: Say what you mean, mean what you say. And, for the most part, I have not felt too much pushback on something like 187. People understand that it was struck down by the courts. And then I talk about securing the border, holding employers accountable for hiring undocumented workers, ending sanctuary cities."
ABC NEWS: "I want to talk to you about this theme of cutting spending. You keep coming back to it. It sounds very easy when you talk about it. Isn't there going to be some pain? Won't some popular programs like Healthy Families get cut? What's the pain that's going to come with this? Do people need to realize that it's not going to be purely fat? Is there some that is going to hurt? What's the part that will hurt?"
WHITMAN: "My view is that there are some things that can be done just by running it more efficiently and more effectively, where we can deliver the same amount of services for less, by deploying technology. But what will happen, Teddy, is we'll shrink the number of people who work for the State of California. Today, we have about 350,000 people. Frankly, we need to skinny that down by about 40,000. And so there is real pain. And the way that I came up with that number is I said, 'Okay, what are the revenues to the general fund of the State of California today. And it's about $80 to $85 billion. Right now it's about $85 billion but it's on its way to $80. When was the last time that revenues were about at that level in the State of California? It turns out in 2004-2005. So my next question was, how many more people work for the state of California today? The answer was 40,000. They have hired 40,000 more people."
ABC NEWS: "What's the breakdown of that 40,000 that you see going away?"
WHITMAN: "Basically, what you do is you go back to exactly the number of people you had in 2004-2005. It turns out there has not been much growth in front-line employees – police, firefighters, teachers; much of the growth has been in the bureaucracy up in Sacramento. And so you have to go each department by department and go back to where we were. Now, you can get there through attrition: 12,000 people, roughly, retire from the civil service each year. If you put a hiring freeze on, it would be down by 36,000 people in three years. So that's the way that I want to approach that. But there is some gain in shrinking the size of an organization. You know, in a workplace, when you shrink the size of a workforce, there is pain there. But there is no question: we have a government that we can no longer afford.That is the cold, hard fact. So we have to make this more efficient. We have to sunset programs that no longer work. We have to eliminate waste and fraud. We must do this. There is always skepticism around this. Every politician says they are going to do that. Yeah, except for that, we have to do it because we're at a crisis."
ABC NEWS: "In terms of the shrinking, what's the mechanism for doing that? Can it be executive action? Or will it have to go through the Legislature?"
WHITMAN: "No, virtually all of this can be executive action and then the other way you influence this is you can set the department budgets and they have to go and figure out how they can go meet those budgets and the only way they can do it is obviously by skinnying down the head count. In the end, Teddy, this has to be about leadership. This has to be: what are we going to try to accomplish? What do we need to do on behalf of the citizens of California so we can put people back to work? So that we can be competitive? So we have to use the veto pen. We have to use the bully pulpit. And this is where you are so right, where focus is incredibly important because you cannot do too many things with the Legislature. You can't stand for too many things. You can't use the bully pulpit for too many things. So, I promise you, every day, I am going to talk about jobs, spending, and education."
ABC NEWS: "I saw Jeb Bush not long ago and I know you met with him."
WHITMAN: "Yes, yes."
ABC NEWS: "What did you talk with him about? Is he a model for you? You know, some of these profiles of you they talk about Reagan. Is Jeb Bush almost more of a model? Specifically, what did you learn from Jeb and do you look to him as a political role model?"
WHITMAN: "I look to him for expertise on education. You know, as I said, for big diverse states that have done a better job than California, all roads lead to Florida and that's why I went down to visit him and his staff that pioneered this reform effort in Florida. And actually, that's where I got these three ideas: (1) grading every single public school; (2) more charter schools; and (3) paying better teachers more. And the results have been remarkable, they really have."
ABC NEWS: "Jeb Bush also pushed on vouchers. You wouldn't push there?"
WHITMAN: "I wouldn't push on vouchers. This is not something that we will be able to get accomplished in California. And my view is; 'what is the 20 percent of the reforms that we can focus on that will get us 80 percent of the way home?' Vouchers is not happening in California. So let's focus on three things that most people can agree on and let's do those three things."
ABC NEWS: "When you talk about the idea of pushing the budget and the decision-making authority down to principals and to the school level, important principle. What's the mechanism for doing that? What will that take? Is it a ballot measure? Is it a state constitutional change?"
WHITMAN: "It's actually probably more negotiation with the California Teachers Association. A lot of that spending, the categoricals, have been in combination of negotiations with the teachers' union and to some extent, legislative action, so you'll have to piece and part. But we actually are going to have to work with the teachers union because in the end, they need to embrace what we need to do here. It will not be an easy negotiation. I want to work with the teachers' union. But as I said out there, we have to put the kids first and we are letting down a generation of California children. It's not acceptable."
ABC NEWS: "So, do you favor having the funding follow the child to the school as they do in San Francisco?"
WHITMAN: "Either the child or maybe to a classroom. You know, I want to look at both models. You can either allocate funds on a per child basis or a per classroom basis. And then you let the school district say: 'Okay, if I've got eight third grade classes, then I allocate on a classroom basis.' That gives each of the school districts some sense of do they want bigger class sizes or smaller class sizes. And my view is, as much authority at the local school district and let them make the decision: do you want 30 kids, 28 kids, 21 kids based on how they take that money."
ABC NEWS: "Jerry Brown is now the de facto Democratic nominee for governor. One of his advisers said to me recently: 'Social conservatives have given up on the California governor's race. They've given up on the governorship of the most populous state in the country. It's pretty surprising.' My question is: Is he right? Is he right that conservatives have given up on it? Do you see yourself as a moderate and that is therefore a good thing for the state? Or do you resist it and say: 'No, I am a conservative and he is not appreciating it."
WHITMAN: "You know, I think, people of all stripes in California, Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, frankly, as I have traveled the state, the number one issue is jobs. And they are looking for which candidate can get the economy back on track. And so while there are many issues that people worry about, the No. 1 issue is jobs and then I also talk about government spending and education. This is what unites us. And so, I would say that I am a fiscal conservative. And then, it's hard to categorize me from the social point of view: I have a different point of view on a number of different issues. But the No. 1 thing that I am leading with on this campaign, the thing I talk about 99.99 percent of the time is: How do we get this economy back on track? Because if we don't put people back to work, there is no way out of this mess. There just isn't."
ABC NEWS: "And on the volatile issue of abortion, which matters to a lot of voters, though I would agree with you that it is not the top issue. What would be your goals in that area?"
WHITMAN: "You know, it isn't at the top of my list. It is largely a federal issue. Much of the issues on how California money is spent is decided by the courts so I wouldn't actually be making recommendations to change any of that. I want to spend 100 percent of my time focused on what I think I can make the biggest difference on as the governor of California."
ABC NEWS: "Going back to spending for a moment. So much is spent on Corrections. Take Three Strikes, for example. Do you think it does make sense to have a third strike even for non-violent offenses?"
ABC NEWS: "It doesn't?"
WHITMAN: "I mean I think we have to stick with Three Strikes. Sarah looked like she was about to keel over there (laughter)."
SARAH POMPEI (WHITMAN PRESS SECRETARY): "I was like: this is new!"
ABC NEWS: "Yeah, because I asked her the other day and –"
WHITMAN: "You know, that's like the propositions. Yes or no on this? No, I am very supportive of Three Strikes. It's the right thing. I'm not for early release of prisoners."
ABC NEWS: "But if you're serious about bringing down the cost of government?"
WHITMAN: "No. Here's the first thing that we should think about: you probably know that the cost of housing a prisoner in California is $49,000 a year."
ABC NEWS: "It's extraordinary."
WHITMAN: "I think the average in the United States is $25,000. We can check that number for you. But it's about double. And the biggest difference is health care and frankly we have to figure out how we can house prisoners effectively, safely, you know, humanely. There is no justification for being the highest cost prison system in the United States. And so, what I would be doing right now as governor is trying to bring down the number of prisoners, which we must do, I'd be trying to place them in neighboring states. That's the best we can possibly do."
ABC NEWS: "That's bringing down the number housed in the state under CCPOA (California Correctional Peace Officers Association) and having well-paid, highly paid, prison guards, maybe certain health-care requirements, maybe that come in from the courts, but no sentencing reforms?"
WHITMAN: "I wouldn't change it. California has a lot of challenges but one of things that California has done incredibly well in the last 25 years is taken a stand on law and order. We have done a very good job on this and I would hate to go backwards due to financial pressures. And I think it's the right thing to do – this Three Strikes. I think it's right on all of these things that we have done. I would look at how to reduce the cost of housing prisoners in California. But I would go other places for trying to find ultimate savings. I wouldn't be trying to save money by releasing people from prison early."
ABC NEWS: "How do you win against Jerry Brown? Why not Jerry Brown? He's going to say: 'I've done this job. I've been governor for two terms. I know how to corral the Legislature. I was more fiscally conservative than Ronald Reagan.' They point to some former Reagan aide making a comment about that many years ago."
WHITMAN: (Laughter).
ABC NEWS: "Why not Jerry Brown, second time around. Jerry Brown 2.0?"
WHITMAN: "I answer that question by saying: 'Why Meg Whitman' which is: I'm not a career politician. I spent 30 years in business. I can tell you that people in California have had it with career politicians: they are done. You have probably seen the Legislature has a 13 or 14 percent approval rating. That was true of Congress when I traveled with John McCain and he used to say: 'We're down to blood relatives and paid staffers with a 13 percent approval rating.' So, what I will talk about is my long private sector experience, my experience of creating jobs, my deep understanding of small business, and the conditions needed in order for small businesses to grow and thrive. My deep understanding of the economy. You know, I have balanced budgets. I am not afraid to make tradeoffs. I am not afraid to stand and be counted. I have a passion for education. And Republicans should own education because we can take a stand that is not in lockstep. And so, my view is, these are the right things to focus on, and what I will try to tell Californians is: if you want a different approach, if you want a more business-like approach, if you want someone who knows how to create jobs, and knows how to focus, then I'm your person. If you want a different person, then you should vote for that. But I will talk about my strengths in this race, which is different from a career politician, Jerry Brown, or otherwise."
ABC NEWS: "There are various efforts – California Forward, the constitutional convention push being run by the Bay Area Council. Are you in favor of a constitutional convention in California? And, if so, what would you like to see it produce? Or, would you like to see separate ballot measures? In particular, do you want to change two-thirds on taxes? Two-thirds on spending? And if not those, which reforms?"
WHITMAN: "So, I do think there is an argument to be made for a constitutional convention. But it should not be an excuse to eliminate the two-thirds requirement to pass a tax increase. Or the two-thirds requirement to pass a budget. I'm in favor of those two."
ABC NEWS: "Some advocates, of course, want a constitutional convention precisely for those reasons."
WHITMAN: "I know."
ABC NEWS: "So, at that point, if they did, you wouldn't be for it?"
WHITMAN: "Exactly. I mean, we can't have a constitutional convention as a Trojan Horse to undo the two-thirds majority. And people worry about that. And I think, actually, people can be inspired to a higher purpose other than a particular agenda. The higher purpose of looking at the constitution which is now second longest in the country, I think, only after Alabama. Given what we know today, how would we change the constitution? I think that would be a good exercise. But it shouldn't be a Trojan Horse just to get rid of the two-thirds majority."
ABC NEWS: What would you like a constitutional convention to do?
WHITMAN: "I would like to look at each and every area of it. I haven't gone deep to look at what a constitutional convention should do. But I think there are certainly some things that would be worth looking at. Here's the truth, though, Teddy. Actually, the next governor of California is not going to have a new constitution. The next governor of California is going to have to deal with what we have and you're going to have to make progress."
ABC NEWS: "Because it won't garner support? Or because the timeline would be further out?"
WHITMAN: "The timeline would be forever. Think about it: who is going to sit on it? What's going to be up for grabs? Are you going to take the whole constitution? Or you going to take pieces of it? And just the concept of trying to put this together, I think, would take two or three years. The next governor will be two or three years into their term even before you have the first assembly of this body."
ABC NEWS: "We are meeting in the week of Sarah Palin's big book tour. How is the Meg Whitman Republican Party different or similar to a Sarah Palin Republican Party?"
WHITMAN: "You know, I like to think that I will subscribe very much to the core Republican principles of small government. Making a small number of rules and getting out of the way. Keeping taxes low. Creating an environment for small businesses to grow and thrive. And I think most Republicans and, by the way, a lot of Democrats, think that those principles are very important. And, on some of the other issues, not every Republican agrees, and, that's OK. This can be a party that welcomes everybody. From the most conservative to the most moderate if we can unite around the No. 1 issue today, which, in my view, is jobs and education. And, in the end, education feeds right into jobs, doesn't it? Because if you don't have a great workforce, a great higher education system, you're not going to have the next eBay, the next AmGen, the next, you know, Miasole, and not only California but America is going to fall behind a whole new competitive context which is obviously China, India, and other countries. I'd say that there is a lot to unite us here."
ABC NEWS: "Two people, the restaurant owner and another gentleman I spoke with mentioned 'the spine of steel'. This idea of – they look to Arnold – and they say, in the end, he wanted to be liked. How important is that, do you think, in your campaign, projecting the sense of I'm not doing this to be liked."
WHITMAN: "It's really important. It's really important. Because Californians understand that we're in gridlock. They understand that we have to take a different approach. And this is why this message of focus rings true from all walks of life. You don't have to have worked in business. You talk to stay-at-home moms and they say: Focus, yeah, you're exactly right. You can't do everything. And then this notion of a spine of steel and making sure that you are not doing this to be popular. You're going to have a lot of pushback. When you're taking on education or you're taking on government spending, there is going to be tremendous negative feedback. And you have to say, you know what, I have a core set of convictions about what I'm doing, I know it's the right thing, it was what I was elected to do, and we're going to plow forward here regardless."
ABC NEWS: "One of your supporters mentioned the sleeping bag at eBay, might we see the sleeping bag at the Capitol?"
WHITMAN: "You know – whatever it takes. This job, being governor of California, is 150 percent, all in. It will take every bit of energy that I have. It is like eBay, it is 7/24, with every bit of energy and enthusiasm that you have. It is not an easy situation up there, too much has gone wrong for too long and it's gong to take everything I have to lead a turnaround here. If it takes sleeping bags in the Capitol, it wouldn't be the firs time (laughter). I've done sleeping bags at the ops center at eBay, and it worked pretty well."