With her unofficial bid to be California's governor, Meg Whitman, the billionaire former CEO of eBay, is leaning hard to the right. Her support of a gay marriage ban could doom her campaign.
Whitman, as we've noted, is an oddity among Silicon Valley Republicans, who tend to worry more about lower taxes than hot-button social issues like abortion and gay marriage. In the Republican presidential primaries, she supported Mitt Romney, a Mormon with conservative social views. But it wasn't until recently that Whitman started talking about her own support for Proposition 8, California's recently passed ban on same-sex marriages.
Henry Gomez, the former eBay superflack who's serving as an advisor to Whitman, told me this week that Whitman's stand was "a personal issue." Many gay eBay employees agree. They see Whitman's stance as a deeply personal betrayal. As the CEO of a company in a liberal industry in a liberal region, Whitman never gave a hint that she didn't value gay and lesbian employees' relationships. It turns out she was just being politic.
Whitman's longtime executive assistant, Anita Gaeta, is a lesbian, who owns a house with her partner in San Jose. I tried to contact Gaeta to get her views on the matter, but she did not respond. Gomez tells me Gaeta continues to work for Whitman.
But leave personal feelings aside. As a practical matter, Whitman's support of Proposition 8 may backfire in fundraising and in the general election. Several current and former eBay executives, including founder Pierre Omidyar, lent their name to a newspaper advertisement opposing Proposition 8. Will they support Whitman's campaign now? Unlikely.
Her stance could also hurt her former employer's business. Already, eBay sellers are organizing a boycott because of Whitman's stance. And no company likes to be drawn into controversial causes. One might think that her handpicked successor, John Donahoe, might prevail on Whitman to moderate her stance for that reason alone.
California prefers its Republicans to be centrists — Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, another Proposition 8 opponent, is the best example of this trend. Whitman's top two contenders, former Representative Tom Campbell and Steve Poizner, the state's insurance commissioner, also opposed the proposition.
It all seems ill thought out — rather like Whitman's quixotic legal campaign to reclaim a set of domain names she failed to register before talk of her gubernatorial prospects became public. The sight of a tech billionaire harassing the small businessman who registered them are provoking giggles among California's Republicans.
Which is probably the right reaction to Whitman's stance on Proposition 8: not anger, but pity. Insulated by sycophantic advisors and accustomed to fawning coverage from a supine tech press corps, Whitman must not even realize what a joke her would-be political career is.