Calbuzz gets results: Suddenly shifting gears on media strategy, Meg Whitman showed up at the Republican state convention Friday and promptly met with California political reporters for a full-on, one-hour press conference that made us wonder why they’ve been hiding and sneaking her out of the back door for the last year.
Now if she goes to dinner with us, we may have to actually quit bitching and moaning about the whole issue of her accessibility.
“It’s the first of more to come,” eMeg said of her give-and-take session with political writers. “We’re now getting down to the short strokes of the primary so you’ll see more of this, and I’ll be doing more and more one-on-one interviews.”
As a short-term political matter, Team Whitman’s move to have the candidate hang with the political pencil press, after months of missteps, stumbles and embarrassing flights from reporters at campaign events, stops the bleeding on a self-inflicted wound.
She got unfavorable national attention this week, when she refused to take questions after inviting the media to cover an event in Oakland. Friday’s performance may also take a big bite out of a narrative being pushed by GOP rival Steve Poizner – that Whitman is too aloof, imperious and controlling to open herself to the normal rigors faced by candidates in California.
“I don’t think we handled it very well,” she said of this week’s incident at the Port of Oakland. “I should have taken questions. It’s one of those days on the campaign trail where things don’t go how they’re supposed to.”
At the convention site Hyatt Regency Santa Clara, Whitman handled questions ranging from taxes to temperament, from pensions to prisons, from immigration to her investments (which were the subject Friday of a must-read piece in the L.A. Times). Although she frequently retreated to talking points, she was direct, facile and responsive in discussing a host of policy issues, as well as the politics of the campaign.
“Steve has changed his mind on many, many issues, immigration is just one of them,” she said of her GOP rival. “When he ran for Assembly in 2004, in a largely Democratic district, he had a very different tune on a whole host of issues.”
At one point, Calbuzz asked her about her recent threat to veto every piece legislation except those focused on her agenda of job creation, spending reduction and education improvements. We asked her to explain what in her background equipped her for dealing with the push and pull of political forces in the Legislature and, while we didn’t really get an answer to that, she responded without hesitation to a question of whether she thought her veto stance sends the right message to a co-equal branch of government.
“I do,” she said. “I think it’s firm and its ‘listen, here’s my approach, here’s what I want to get done, here’s what the people of California expect us to do so let’s focus on these three things.
“I think by saying ‘I will veto everything’ except for public safety, I mean, if we have an earthquake or something, right, we’re going to be realistic about it, but I think by saying ‘we’re not going to do any of the other stuff, let’s put all of our energies against these three things,’ and I have to tell you the nearly 700 pieces of legislation that were signed into law last year, virtually none of this was on point to the crisis…
“The legislature is interested in many things but they’re interested in being re-elected, so can we focus the Legislature around my three priorities?”
Like Jerry Brown on his announcement tour last week, Whitman said she would move the Legislature in part by improving personal relationships between it and the governor’s office.
“I think in many ways this is about relationships. The next governor has to move to Sacramento…you’ve got to buy a house, you’ve got to be part of that community you’ve got to know every state senator by name, every Assembly person by name. You’ve got to build the relationship because life is about relationships…
“Trust is an important thing and consistency is an important way to build trust and one of the things that hasn’t happened here has been consistency.”
We’ll have more on eMeg’s take on issues in days to come.
Update 10:35 pm: eMeg shudda quit while she was ahead.
Instead she decided to test the limits of human endurance and deliver a speech that was reliably reported to be left over from her middle school student council election to an audience of 500 Republican delegates seemingly struggling to stay awake, who applauded enthusiastically at exactly three lines: a) “I want to eliminate the capital gains tax”; b) “we will win the battle to give rank and file union members the right to protect their paychecks”; c) “Thank you for inviting me to speak to you tonight…thank you.”
The highlight, such as it was, came during her introduction by former GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, one of her mentors. Romney, who was celebrating his 63rd birthday – who says Mormons don’t know how to have fun? – stumbled all over himself in introducing her:
“She’s soft on the inside and hard as nails on the…” he began. “…Excuse me…she’s soft on the outside and hard as nails on the inside,” he added, never really explaining how he would know such a thing.
Earlier Poizner had his own news conference, and channeled the Energizer Bunny cranked up on about three Red Bulls. He hammered eMeg on a host of issues, most especially illegal immigration.
Poizner said as governor he would “yank the business license” of companies that employ illegals, move to secure the state’s border “with the National Guard if necessary” and “turn off the magnets” by ending “all taxpayer funded benefits for illegals – not because anyone’s being heartless – this is about ending the magnets so that people don’t come here in the first place.”
“Meg Whitman is not willing to do that. I supported Prop. 187, she does not support Prop. 187,” he said. “It’s one of these important distinctions between the two of us that’s critical.”
Poizner speaks to the delegates Saturday night.