Can California Be Bought? The Auction Closes in 2 Weeks

Two weeks from today, voters in California will elect a new governor.

This comes not a moment too soon for most of us—as we struggle with yet another extended budget impasses in the state legislature, as well as the high unemployment and other issues faced by most of the nation.

While the three key parties (Democrats, Republicans and Schwartzenegger) continue to thrash through yet another episode of this long-running drama, the one thing that’s clear is that there’ll be a change in players come November.

Meanwhile, it appears that the leadership of the state is up for auction, with eBay’s former CEO Republican Meg Whitman spending as much as she can to bag the big prize and Democrat Jerry Brown fighting back from his much more meager war chest.

An interesting thing is happening, the more Whitman spends, the less she gains. Not only are most California residents sick and tired of the ongoing barrage of advertising we’ve been subjected to for nearly a year now, but many people are frustrated to see over $150 million spent by a billionaire to try and buy the affections of voters. (Latest gambit: Bringing in billionaire Michael Bloomberg to stump for Whitman—what’s next, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates? Wait, they’re busy using their billions for charitable causes.)

To be clear,  I think eBay is a great company and a real Silicon Valley success story. However, I don’t  believe that running a successful technology company necessarily prepares you to run the bizarre governmental mechanism California has evolved for itself. For better or worse, there’s a complicated machine running in Sacramento, and all the rhetoric and good intentions in the world won’t change the fact that it takes someone who understands such machinery to make it run more efficiently.

But I’m also questioning how much Whitman really absorbed about eBay’s business while she was running the company.

There’s no question she built the company from a small startup to a large, successful Silicon Valley powerhouse. But it appears she may be unclear as to how all those eBay customers wind up as winning bidders.

Anyone who’s participated in an eBay auction knows that bidding early and often does nothing but raise the auction price—sometimes to an amount that’s way beyond the value of the item, upsetting others who are watching the auction closely. While this is happening, savvy  bidders wait their turn in the wings. Then, when the auction is about ready to close, they jump in at the very last moment and make their bid.

What Whitman has done is spend somewhere north of $150 million (perhaps closer to $200 million by the time this is said and done) to bid up the price of the CA governership. Meanwhile, Brown, knowing he couldn’t compete with that kind of cash, waited till the end date was in sight before entering his “bid.”

Maybe Whitman will be successful and California can in fact be bought by a billionaire. But maybe, just maybe, California voters, sick and tired of being fed a barrage of negative ads (some of which have been proven to be false and inaccurate), will look to the candidate who held his bid to the end.

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