Would-be governor talks to Modesto farmers

Former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman said Tuesday that jobs, education and state spending are at the heart of her campaign for governor.

"I'm a big believer in focus," Whitman told about 50 people at the Modesto office of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau. "Let's do three things at 100 percent instead of 15 things at 3 percent, because the devil is in the details."

Whitman, seeking the nomination in the June Republican primary, called for expanding the state's water and highway systems and improving education with charter schools and other measures.

She said she would tackle state spending that has grown 80 percent over the past dec-ade.

"I've been all over the state budget, and trust me when I tell you that we don't have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem of epic proportions," she said.

Whitman is the top fund-raiser in the GOP race, which includes Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell from the South Bay.

Her campaign brought in $6.5 million during the first half of this year, in addition to her own $4 million contribution to her campaign.

Whitman joined eBay in 1998 and helped guide its growth into the world's largest online marketplace. Her experience before that ranged from helping FTD florists with their business networks to marketing Mr. Potato Head for Hasbro.

She called for increasing water deliveries in the parts of the San Joaquin Valley especially hard-hit by drought and the resulting job losses. She said she believes in regulating farmers to protect the environment, but not in a way that drives them out of business.

"We can't lose this asset in California, so we have to do everything we possibly can to help growers grow and thrive," Whitman said.

Paul Wenger, a Modesto area nut farmer and first vice president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, said it's too early for the group to endorse candidates but that Whitman made a positive impression.

"I think she's well-studied in most issues involving ag, but unfortunately, that's not what wins elections," he said.

In an interview after her talk, Whitman said the valley should be marketed as a low-cost region for manufacturing, comparable to states that are attracting California companies.

She called for increased nuclear power but said solar, wind and biomass can have roles. "Climate change offers an economic opportunity for the state of California, and that is green jobs and green technology," she said.

The election for governor will be in November 2010. Democrats eyeing a run include Attorney General Jerry Brown.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or 578-2385.