I am just starting to educate myself on the candidacy of former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA.).
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Ms. Fiorina is pro-life, always a big plus for those of us who bitterly cling to our guns and religion, as Barack Obama famously characterized a huge voting bloc within the American electorate. Any wonder why he’s tanking in the polls?
Ms. Fiorina is also a tax cutting, pro business candidate who is in favor of safely extracting the natural resources that lay just off the California coastline. Look for more press on this up and coming
Repuplican candidate from the Golden State as she continues to cut into Boxer’s lead in the polls.
After chemotherapy, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina says taking on Sen. Barbara Boxer isn’t so intimidating.
By JOHN FUND
When Carly Fiorina sat down to speak with me recently, I was briefly taken aback. The former CEO of Hewlett Packard and current candidate for U.S. Senate from California was sporting a close-cropped, salt-and-pepper hairdo. Having completed six months of treatment for breast cancer, the 55-year-old Ms. Fiorina has dispensed with the auburn wig she’d been wearing as her hair grows back.
She says her health is now fine, and that “after chemotherapy Barbara Boxer isn’t that scary anymore,” referring to the three-term Democratic incumbent she wants to unseat in 2010. She laughs when I suggest her new ‘do may get her a hearing in precincts like Berkeley and San Francisco. On a more serious note, she says that “in these hard times, a lot of people across the spectrum will listen to my message—that California can only recover if we encourage economic growth and restrain spending and job-killing regulation.”
With a 12.5% unemployment rate, the Golden State is certainly in trouble. In 2007 alone, 260,000 Californians moved to states with more opportunity. The nonpartisan Tax Foundation says only New York and New Jersey have worse business tax climates. And a new Los Angeles Times poll found that more than half of California residents think the state’s major problems won’t fade as the economy recovers.
Ms. Fiorina is not shy in pointing out what’s to blame. “The high tax, big government, regulatory regime we see in California is the current course and speed for where the nation is headed,” she warns. “California is a great test case, a factual demonstration that those programs don’t work.” She notes that while state spending has significantly outstripped inflation in recent years, every year government services perform more poorly and it becomes harder to open a business. “I very much doubt Hewlett Packard could be founded today as a manufacturing company in California,” she adds soberly.
There are signs California voters have had enough. After the legislature passed a huge $12.5 billion tax increase last February to plug the state’s budget gap, it put a measure on the ballot to extend the tax hikes for two years. The tax failed by an almost 2-to-1 margin.
Voters may also be in the mood for new leadership. “I’m not a professional politician, I’m a problem solver,” she emphasizes, contrasting her record with that of the 69-year-old Ms. Boxer. That record is fairly stark: By most measures, Ms. Boxer has been an unbending ideologue during her three terms, as illustrated by her 95% rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action in 2008.
Given the deep national recession and a state economy deep in the red, Ms. Fiorina is especially critical of Ms. Boxer’s opposition to “virtually every trade agreement.” Ms. Fiorina also chides Ms.
Boxer for the latter’s lockstep support for the public employee unions that she claims enjoy “outsized political influence” in California.
On the environment, Ms. Fiorina faults the senator for ignoring pleas from farmers to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore water flows to California’s Central Valley, which have been restricted by two controversial biological assessments by the government that asserted the local delta smelt was endangered: “I’ve seen the devastation and massive unemployment that [the water restrictions have] caused.”
California’s other Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein, has called for an immediate third-party review of the federal conclusions. Ms. Fiorina notes that Ms. Boxer came into the Senate in 1993 at the same time as her more moderate colleague. “Since then, Dianne Feinstein has been far more productive while Barbara Boxer has been singularly ineffective for the people of California.”
On the legislative front, Ms. Boxer chairs the Senate Environment Committee. Her clumsy bobbling of the cap-and-trade bill designed to address global warming has even been criticized by some of her fellow Democrats. Ms. Fiorina has a different take: “Thank goodness she’s failed to pass that job-killer, but it shows how little she gets across the finish line.”
Ms. Fiorina makes clear she takes the issue of climate change seriously. But she argues that global warming is best addressed through more innovation, new technology and energy efficiency, areas in which California has excelled. The scientific debate on the extent of global warming should continue, she says. Meanwhile, cleaner technologies such as nuclear power should be encouraged.
“We must take advantage of every source of energy,” she emphasizes, and forthrightly tackles a taboo subject in a state that has restricted off-shore drilling since the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. “Technology has fundamentally changed the extraction of oil and natural gas,” she says. That means California can protect the environment at the same time it opens up new areas of exploration.
Ms. Fiorina also is fascinated by the political potential of technology. “We need more transparency and accountability in government so that people know how their money is being spent,” she says. “That means putting budgets online, putting legislation online.” She’s convinced that if citizens can play a greater watchdog role it will be easier to keep a check on higher spending and taxes.
In the midst of her enthusiastic comments about high-tech solutions to economic and political problems, Ms. Fiorina pauses to acknowledge that she’s fully aware her six-year tenure as the head of HP will be used against her.
“Liberals will say I was let go by my board in 2005 and outsourced some jobs overseas,” she says bluntly. “But I took the company through the worst technology recession in a generation and created jobs on a net basis. As for the outsourcing, the tax and regulatory climate made it almost impossible not to do that—which is why we have to change it.” Ms. Fiorina claims subsequent revelations—that her successor and the board members who fired her were embroiled in an internal spying scandal—help vindicate her tenure as the first woman to head a Fortune 20 company.
But it’s not just Democrats and liberals who will attack Ms. Fiorina. In a recent poll (with most voters undecided), she had only a narrow lead over Republican Chuck DeVore, a state assemblyman who criticizes her as the candidate of the party’s establishment. He told reporters earlier this month that the fundamental issue is whether primary voters want “someone who epitomizes Reagan Republicanism or Rockefeller Republicanism.”
To some that slam might seem a bit of a reach. Ms. Fiorina insists on her conservative bona fides. Her father was Joseph Sneed, a conservative law professor who served on the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals from 1973 until his death last year. His daughter says she inherited both his ability to work with those he disagreed with and his “common sense” views on issues.
Ms. Fiorina adds that she learned the values of hard work and entrepreneurship after she left Stanford University with a degree in medieval history and philosophy and was “unemployable.” She worked as a secretary at a real-estate firm until she joined a management training program at AT&T in 1980.
She rose to oversee marketing and sales for the largest division of Lucent Technologies before taking over HP in 1999.
“I will not run away from [conservative] values,” Ms. Fiorina says, noting that she has signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge against higher taxes and voted for Proposition 8 last year, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. On abortion, Ms. Fiorina says she is “proudly pro-life” and a strong opponent of taxpayer funding of abortions.
But her views also carry some nuance. She notes she created a strong program of domestic partner benefits while at HP. As for changing existing laws on abortion, she acknowledges, “I know, as a realist, that not everyone agrees with me. So the common ground we can find is how to reduce abortions.”
An issue that will give Mr. DeVore some traction in a primary is that Ms. Fiorina says she “probably” would have voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor, because most presidential Supreme Court nominees who are qualified deserve a presumption of support. One can argue with that position on substantive grounds, but it’s probably smart politics in a general election given that California is 37% Hispanic.
Mr. DeVore has won backing from Rep. Tom McClintock, a conservative California hero, along with South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint. But Ms. Fiorina is supported by stalwart Republican conservative Sens. Tom Coburn and James Inhofe from Oklahoma. She also has support from Maine’s Republican moderate Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.
Can a conservative win in California given the shellacking John McCain, for whom Ms. Fiorina was a top economic adviser, got in the state last year? Her crisp answer is yes, noting that “the timing is now against Boxer” because “Californians are worried about whether they will have a job along with ballooning federal spending and deficits.” All recent polls show Ms. Boxer below the 50% support an incumbent should have. Last week’s Rasmussen poll gave Ms. Boxer a 46% to 37% lead over Ms. Fiorina, with one in three voters holding a “very unfavorable” view of the Democratic incumbent.
Ms. Fiorina notes that ObamaCare is now supported by only half of the state’s voters. This is a sign, she says, that voters increasingly recognize it will raise the cost of health-care premiums and fail to solve real problems in our health-care system.
She has also targeted the proposed federal guidelines restricting the frequency of mammograms on the basis of personal experience. Ms. Fiorina says she found her own breast cancer lump only two weeks after a clear mammogram, and if she had waited two years for another one her cancer might not have been detected. She said on CNN that the federal panel that approved the now-withdrawn recommendations had “no cancer specialists on it, and the panel was explicitly asked to consider cost, not simply science.”
Ms. Fiorina recognizes she has a way to go to convince voters to elect a political newcomer, and she makes no excuses for her spotty voting record in recent years. But California has a long tradition of electing outsiders to statewide office—from Ronald Reagan to educator S.I. Hayakawa (to the U.S. Senate) to Arnold Schwarzenegger. In tough economic times, California may well be tempted to elect a former CEO who thinks the Congress needs common-sense people like herself.
Mr. Fund is a columnist for WSJ.com.