Meg Whitman

Carla Marinucci and  Joe Garofoli,
Chronicle Political Writers

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Responding to criticism that she has sidestepped media, Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman held an unprecedented, hourlong conversation with news reporters Friday, laying out her positions on state pension reform, prisons and immigration while taking shots at Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican rival Steve Poizner.

The billionaire former eBay CEO had her most in-depth exchange with political reporters since she entered the race last year, after arriving to cheers at the state GOP convention at the Santa Clara Hyatt. She later spoke to several hundred delegates after being introduced by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Whitman proposed major reforms to the state pension system, including raising the retirement age. She said she supports a guest worker program but does not support giving the children of illegal immigrants tuition breaks to attend public universities. And she suggested sending California prisoners to other states to relieve overcrowding.

She made the comments after facing blistering criticism from Republicans and others about her refusal to take questions from reporters invited to a campaign event Tuesday in Oakland. On Friday, she called that “a mistake” and promised more interviews and access.
Tax returns

In response to questions about her investments and income, Whitman – whose net worth has been estimated at $1.4 billion – said she is prepared to release 25 years of her tax information. But she said, “I want to do it on my own time. … We should challenge (gubernatorial candidate) Jerry Brown. When he releases his taxes, I will.”

Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford said Brown “was the first to release his taxes as governor and we’re happy to do so now,” promising that would happen “shortly.” Poizner, the state insurance commissioner who is challenging Whitman for the GOP nomination, has agreed to release his tax

When asked about details of her income and her investments in offshore hedge funds that were reported this week in her economic interest statement, Whitman said she has paid California state taxes every year since she moved to the state in 1998.

She defended her charitable foundation’s investments in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, calling them part of a “broad portfolio of investments” that she insisted is similar to “big foundations and big universities.”

With three months until the June primary, Whitman signaled her general election strategy: She painted herself as a business expert and political leader. And she took shots at state Attorney General Brown as a too-liberal governor and mayor of Oakland.

“You tell me: What has Jerry Brown accomplished in those four decades of political life that should give Californians a single reason to let him get a second shot? Nothing,” Whitman said in a speech to delegates Friday night.
Looking to November

She also leveled criticism at Poizner, calling him the “only liberal” in the GOP primary and said he has increased spending by nearly 14 percent in the Department of Insurance since he took over in 2007. But Whitman, a resident of Atherton, also acknowledged that she voted for Poizner as a resident of the district where he ran his unsuccessful 2004 campaign for state Assembly.

Poizner spokesman Jarrod Agen said Poizner’s department’s operating budget has gone down 15 percent since he took office three years ago, adding that Whitman’s “endorsing and supporting Barbara Boxer, Van Jones and the Environmental Defense Fund makes (her) more of a liberal than Steve, who supports across-the-board tax cuts and has been a lifelong Republican.”

In other issues, Poizner took a hard turn to the right at a news conference Friday, saying he supported Proposition 187, including its provision to bar taxpayer-funded services – public school education and health care – for children of undocumented immigrants. “We have to turn the magnets off,” Poizner said.
Other issues

Among the highlights of Whitman’s news conference:

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