Meg Whitman’s Vicious Campaign

by Randy Shaw on September 21, 2010

As part of her record spending blitz, Meg Whitman for Governor ads are deluging the radio, including the flagship station of the San Francisco Giants, KNBR. This means baseball fans incessantly hear Whitman bemoaning the lack of funding for higher education, along with her “plan” to add $1billion for the UC’s. What is this plan? It is to “reform” welfare by limiting recipient benefits to two years, and requiring that they work to keep these benefits. Currently, the maximum CalWORK’s grant for a family of three is a paltry $694 a month, with another $498 in food stamps bringing the total to only $1192. This is less than three hundred dollars more than an SSI grant, which the federal government believes is necessary to sustain a single person. Despite California’s steep unemployment, Whitman is spending millions arguing that families on welfare need greater work incentives and have too good a deal. Whitman’s vicious attacks on our most unfortunate should be yanked off the air, and she instead needs to tell voters why higher taxes on the wealthy are not a more equitable strategy.

Few actions are more despicable than a multi-millionaire promoting making life worse for the very poor. Yet that’s what California Republican Governor candidate Meg Whitman is doing to get votes, even arguing that our lowest-income families should be removed from welfare altogether after two years.

Vicious and Ignorant

Is it viciousness that leads Whitman to want to see more homeless families begging on California streets? Or is she really that ignorant about the current economic crisis, one that finds college grads unable to find jobs for the two year period for which Whitman wants to limit welfare?

I think it’s a combination of both.

Whitman’s meanness was on display during her primary campaign, with her vicious attacks on undocumented immigrants and on her rival, Steve Poizner. Her ignorance on policy is often on display, in sharp contradiction to her efforts to portray herself as a woman of ideas who likes nothing more than to talk issues with constituents.

Whitman seems to have forgotten that the federal government transformed the nation’s welfare system in 1994. That’s when the federal five-year time limit was imposed, with state’s allowed to reduce it to two, as Whitman now urges.

Federal welfare reform has worked so well that the Census Bureau reported last week that the United States has 46.3 million people living in poverty, the most in fifty years. The nation’s 14.3 percent poverty rate is the highest since 1994 and the third consecutive annual increase.

One in four Latinos live in poverty, a fact that one would think would cause someone running to be California’s Governor to have second thoughts about ending welfare to unemployed parents after two years. Yet Whitman is oblivious to the hard times faced by the state’s Latino families, believing she can fool Latino voters through her splashy “Latinos for Meg” section of her website.

Whitman appears unaware that the statutory CalWORKs COLA has been suspended for several consecutive budgets, and the grant was last increased in 2004. The California Budget Project reported in May 2009 that the CalWORKs grant is worth just 54.2 percent of what it was worth 20 years ago.

Whitman’s “Plan” Destroyed Higher Ed

Whitman certainly knows that the University of California, state universities and community colleges have experienced devastating budget shortfalls because Republican legislators refuse to raise any taxes. It has nothing to do with paying obscenely small grants to welfare recipients, or with allowing unemployed families to get aid for five rather than two years.

Whitman is trying to deflect attention away from Democratic proposals to raise taxes on the super-rich, believing that blaming the poor is a tried and true strategy for success. Ronald Reagan was first elected Governor and then President by bashing so-called “welfare queens,” despite never providing any factual basis for his claim that welfare mothers drove Cadillac’s.

But Whitman forgets that Reagan’s appeals resonated when jobs were more plentiful, not as now when new college grads cannot find work and those laid off could face permanent unemployment. Today, voters are far less likely to view the unemployed as lazy and not desiring work, and if they paid close attention to what Whitman is saying in her ads – whose dominant theme is the need to better fund higher ed – her poll numbers would be worse.

As it stands, the woman derided by the California Nurses Association as “Queen Meg” is living up to her reputation. It would be no surprise if her next round of ads announced a plan for the state’s poor and unemployed that would “Let Them Eat Cake.”

Randy Shaw’s Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century is now available in paperback.

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