Meg Whitman squandered $140 to $160 million - depending on who is counting - trying to buy the California governorship.
It was a losing cause from the beginning. The eBay-made billionaire lady never did better than dead even in the polls with Jerry Brown, California attorney general and now governor-elect, before he even started campaigning. He beat her on election day by 13 percentage points, yet she outspent him by a whopping margin — 6 to 1. He reportedly started with a war chest of $40 million and wound up with $10 million over.
As hard as many Whitman supporters tried to convince themselves and others she had a chance, the honest knew it was a lost cause from the start. Some tired of her ceaseless commercials she bought for name-recognition. Everyone certainly knows who she is; the rich lady who tried to buy the governorship.
However, her defeat cannot be blamed solely on her partially emptied bank account. Jerry Brown is the consummate politician and campaigner. He has run for office 10 times. Sacramento politicos say in person Brown can be bewildering; a flighty sort. I am told you can be engaging him in a conversation, and he will just wander off. Ideas fly from him like a flushed quail covey and come out as quick. A bit goofy, but very intelligent.
However, take him on in a public debate and he will destroy you, as he did with Whitman. He is a brilliant debater.
When he was first elected in the mid-1970s, he was the youngest (age 42) governor in modern California. When he is sworn in, he will become the oldest to hold the job at 72.
He has gone from being 'Governor Moonbeam' and the beau of Linda Ronstadt to an elder statesman, married in 2005 (for the first time at age 67) to another lawyer and the former Gap chief administrative officer, Ann Gust, who had been Brown’s 'girlfriend' for 15 years. According to reports, Gust, 52, guided Brown’s campaign during the final push toward victory.
She has been described as tough and savvy with a sense of humor. She also has a strong social conscience. She directed Gap’s social responsibility movement. One reporter wrote that she is the “common-sense counter to Brown's philosophical whimsy, a former corporate lawyer attuned to detail and deadlines who tempers her husband's frenetic ways.”
One lobbyist described her influence with Brown as simply “enormous.” A Sacramento political columnist says Brown wants his wife to be his chief of staff. From what most people say about her, she would be a very good one ... almost de facto governor. That seems far-fetched, even for Brown.
For many in agriculture, Brown’s past terms as governor from 1975-1983 bring back nightmares today. They say he wrecked the state. There are no great expectations for the next four years. For one reason California is broke, and Brown doesn’t have any money to walk on the wild side as he did before.
I asked a couple of veteran agricultural politicos if they thought they will be any better off or worse off with Brown as governor. They had no quick answer, which says plenty about the uncertain future of the sixth largest economy in the world.
However, those same two said that it would be a different Brown than 30 years ago. For one thing there may be a woman (in effect) occupying the governor’s seat. It’s not Meg Whitman. It’s Anne Gust Brown.
It is going to be a ride like no other in California’s political history.