News & Views from 465 California Street

Earth to Meg: Voting Matters

Clint Reilly

The shocking story that California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman – the 53-year-old billionaire former CEO of eBay – never cast a ballot before 2002 continues to astound.

How can a candidate who never took the time to vote in any election until six years ago even presume to place her name on a ballot – let alone for the highest office in the largest state in America?

Whitman’s smug declaration that “Californians need to trust their government again” is a new high in the decoupling of political rhetoric and truth.

With a straight face, Whitman has spun a running list of answers for her failure to participate in our democracy ranging from “I’m sorry,” to “I was too busy.” Believe it or not, she even likened herself to the late singer Sonny Bono, another apparent non-voter before running for office.

That’s setting the bar pretty low.

I’m sorry, but when I was a kid, my parents voted. My dad was a milkman for Berkeley Farms Creamery and worked six days a week. My mother was a housewife who raised 10 kids while running a vending stand at the Oakland Coliseum for 26 years. They were busy. Their friends were busy. But they considered it their civic duty to take the time to be informed and to vote.

So, forgive me if I don’t buy Whitman’s excuse that she was too “focused on raising a family, on my husband’s career,” to vote.

The fact is that Whitman’s political consultants are so cynical about the reputation of our democracy among voters, they have advised their client that the issue won’t matter.

They know there will be a period of negative stories and turbulence, but they think interest will quickly evaporate and new rabbits will appear for the newshounds to chase.

But Whitman and her advisers may have underestimated the renewed enthusiasm Americans across the political spectrum are exhibiting for their democracy. A newly energized electorate is participating in politics more than at any time in our history.

Just last week, the Gallup poll found that more Americans are watching, observing and voting. “Americans’ consumption of political news has expanded over the last decade,” Gallup reported. Some of that increase was attributed to the intense interest in Barack Obama. But engagement was up across the board among Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Witness the cult-like following of Sarah Palin.

The divisions among entertainment, culture and political discourse are deteriorating.

Today, Bill Clinton can command $250,000 to $1 million for a single speech. Higher ratings for Maddow, Olberman, O’Reilly, Beck, Fox News and MSNBC tell the story of a growing fascination with politics. Rush Limbaugh rakes in $40 million per year from behind the microphone – more than any radio star except Howard Stern.

The rise to stardom of television pundits like James Carville, George Stephanopoulos and the late Tim Russert suggests a burgeoning new brand of entertainment centered in Washington. Political documentaries are scoring theater audiences formerly reserved for dramas and comedies.

We’re far removed from the 1970s, when a newspaper editor once told me, “Clint, readers just aren’t interested in politics,” to justify killing a story on one of my candidates.

People today are interested in politics, which brings us back to Whitman, who apparently couldn’t be bothered to engage in the most fundamental act of democracy until a few years ago.

What political agnosticism would compel her not to vote for president, governor, senator, Congress, mayor or city council?

What disdain for democracy would cause her not to vote for a single issue impacting her city, state or nation over 28 years?

What could have generated her complete lack of respect for the democratic process which built the economic powerhouse that enabled her to prosper?

The most obvious question still remains: If Whitman didn’t respect our democracy enough to vote as a regular citizen, why on earth should we trust her to lead our state government?

Comments (7)

  • Thank you for the great piece on Meg Whitman. I agree. What audacity!!

    Posted by: Shelby V.M. | October 6th, 2009 at 2:13 pm

  • As I recall when you won the privilege to write a weekly column one of your arguments was that you were afraid that grouping local papers under one owner would lead to a bias and slanted presentation of news worthy information to the public.

    Yet every time I read one of your columns you continue to present your liberal and bias side to whatever subject you seem to be writing about. In today’s column you attack Meg Whitman on her voting record. You consider it egregious what she has done. I don’t see you attacking Gavin Newsom about is infidelity prior to his recent marriage. But why would you since he has a new baby and has recently received the endorsement of Bill Clinton another poor excuse for moral leadership. You find nothing wrong with what they did? You are quick to condemn others who have done these things, but funny they are Republicans, so they don’t deserve forgiveness. I often wonder when you tout your Catholic background and yet you embrace Newsom and Clinton as if they are the most wonderful people in the world.

    Or how about how you really love Nancy Pelosi and all she is doing to screw up this nation in congress. Her latest is to not allow a fellow Democrat, a Catholic, bring an amendment to the floor for debate that does not allow the health care reform bill to pay for abortions. This lady is against war and the death penalty, very pro Catholic ideas yet she supports abortion. When is abortion not a death penalty upon an unborn child. The argument that the unborn child is not alive until it is born is ridiculous. That is like saying there is no live bacteria inside of us or diseases we have inside of us aren’t dangerous to others because they are inside and can’t be alive or aren’t transmutable.

    So if your goal in your articles is to present an unbias side that the papers are not presenting then currently you are failing. If you care about fairness in reporting then write some critical articles about your fellow Democrats.

    Thank you for providing your address so I could voice my opinion and concern.

    Rick H

    Posted by: Rick H. | October 6th, 2009 at 2:15 pm

  • First, I look forward to reading your column on Tues in the SJ Merc.
    Most of the time I agree with your beliefs & you have helped me to really get more interested in politics. I have more time since I am now retired.

    You are right on about Meg thinking she is going to impress anyone to vote for her. Guess I just won’t be able to find the time! Her money does not impress me at all & she is totally unqualified.

    Responding to a columnist is a new experience for me. I even send your articles to my sister in OR and we discuss them by phone. Keep up the good work.

    Posted by: Pat | October 6th, 2009 at 2:16 pm

  • Your column today about Meg Whitman was right on target. I am 62 and have voted in every single election since I was 21. I don’t have a lot of money and don’t have a lot of time, but the ONE thing I can do about all the problems going on around me is at least vote. It may not make a huge difference these days with all the lobbyists running things, but when people give up on voting, the lobbys win.

    Several years ago I had a roommate who was unemployed. On voting day we were talking and he admitted he hadn’t voted and didn’t intend to vote. It wasn’t as if he had a busy work schedule, or was ill that day, or had anything important to do that would prevent him from going down the street to the school and vote. He just didn’t think it was important. I got very angry and told him that he might want to think about finding another place to live because I just couldn’t live with a person who doesn’t vote. I told him it was none of my business WHO he voted for, but that he did need to vote. He did eventually vote that night, and in subsequent elections. Was I too severe? Was I encroaching on his right to do as he chose?

    Not in my mind. I just can’t stand the idea of someone not bothering to vote and to me they are pond scum.

    Frankly I think Meg Whitman is getting far too much publicity. She is a nonentity and should be ignored from now on in my opinion.

    Posted by: Jim K. | October 6th, 2009 at 2:18 pm

  • Clint, my name is David Bonilla, and I am writing you this email to tell you that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your Public Service Message on the San Jose Mercury News every Tuesday morning. Your article is the second item I read in the newspaper on Tuesdays: after the headlines.

    As an adjunct university business professor for the University of Phoenix in San Jose, I usually scrutinize news article, letters to the editor and columnists’ contribution for even-handed opinions and policy stands; oh yes, also for succinct, clear and concise writing. Your writing is definitely something I aspire to emulate; which is why I recommend your column to my politically-oriented students and collegues.

    I agree thoroughly with your message this morning about Meg Whitman. You said what I had been feeling and saying to some of my friends. As a first generation Mexican immigrant who served 20 years as an officer in the California National Guard, and who has been a “centrist” (although registered Democract) voter for over 30+ years, I resent anyone (native-born or immigrant) who can take time out to “thrash” our government, but who did not bother to register and vote because “they were too busy.” Thirty years ago, I was also very busy working full time, raising a family, going to college at night and serving my country. But proudly, I voted in almost every election.

    Therefore, I don’t buy her rationale; and certainly would not vote for her: even if she was the last candidate standing. Instead, my vote will go first to Jerry Brown – or possibly even Tom Campbell if Newsome is the Democract’s candidate – but certainly not for Meg Whitman!

    In conclusion, thank you for taking time out of your busy life to write with such impact, clarity and meaning. I believe you convey the right centrist message for our turbulent times. I appreciate it. Keep up the good work!



    Posted by: David | October 6th, 2009 at 5:13 pm

  • Thanks for covering this. Outrageous that she would run for office given her non-participation in the democratic process.

    Posted by: Dean Preston | October 8th, 2009 at 10:45 pm

  • We admire, enjoy, and look forward to your columns–we each make sure we BOTH get to read them–thanks from both of us! RE: this year’s politics–I’m not proud of these female candidates–Carly Fiorina almost destroyed HP (till they sent her packing!) and Meg Whitman obviously knows little and cares less about our political system; I guess they figure their money can buy them anything–political office is just another tchotchke to show off!

    Posted by: Marj Ottenberg; Bob Wallace | February 17th, 2010 at 12:33 am

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