Image: Meg Whitman
Francis Specker  /  AP
Former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman speaks at a news conference at the California Republican Convention in Indian Wells, Calif., on Saturday.
updated 9/26/2009 11:26:28 PM ET 2009-09-27T03:26:28

California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman sought to redirect attention from her spotty voting record Saturday as she promoted a platform of fiscal discipline to the party faithful.

Speaking to the state Republican Party convention near Palm Springs, the billionaire former CEO of the online auction company eBay Inc. outlined a program of severe austerity for state government if she is elected next year.

She promised to slash an additional $15 billion in spending and reduce the state government work force by 40,000, reiterating points she made earlier in the week when she formally announced her candidacy. She provided no details about how she would achieve those goals.

Whitman told GOP delegates, who were meeting as the temperature outside their resort soared to 110 degrees, that California simply can no longer afford the level of government service it has been providing.

"If elected, I will identify and implement at least $15 billion in permanent spending cuts from the state budget. I'll eliminate redundant and underperforming government agencies and commissions," she said.

‘There’s plenty of money’
Eliminating waste and abuse also has been a theme for the governor she hopes to succeed, fellow Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, who must leave office next year due to term limits. His efforts to do so have achieved only modest success in providing savings to the state.

For example, Schwarzenegger told delegates Friday night that the budget he signed this summer eliminated 11 boards and commissions, for a savings of $50 million. Annual spending in the state budget has dropped by about $18 billion over the past two fiscal years, forcing deep cuts to public schools, higher education, health care programs and social services.

"The issue is not money. There's plenty of money. It's how the money is spent," Whitman said.

Her speech did not touch on questions that have surrounded the campaign for days, after The Sacramento Bee published the results of an investigation into Whitman's voting record.

Shortly after Whitman gave the state party $250,000 of her own money for voter-registration efforts, the Bee reported there was no evidence that she had ever registered to vote before 2002 and she had not registered as a Republican until 2007.

‘I should’ve voted’
On Saturday, Whitman refused to answer repeated questions from reporters about her voting record, including why she didn't register and when she first registered as a Republican. Instead, she repeated a previous apology for failing to vote and said she had been wrong not to.

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"I did not vote. I should've voted. It is inexcusable," she said. "I've said what I'm going to say about it."

Press aides eventually told reporters to move on to another topic.

One of Whitman's opponents for the GOP nomination, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, has called on her to drop out of the race. He said Whitman's apparent failure to participate in elections for 28 years suggests a lack of engagement in politics and government, and he predicted that Californians will never elect her governor.

"I can imagine that Steve Poizner would like me to get out of the race," Whitman said Saturday. "It's not happening."

A mixed marriage
Poizner also faced questions from reporters about previous campaign donations to Democrats, including the presidential campaign of Al Gore. He said his wife is a Democrat and they share a joint checking account.

"The fact is, I've been a Republican since 1981 and I am married to someone who's been a Democrat her whole life. ... We've had some very interesting dinnertime conversations," he said.

Poizner promoted his proposal to cut taxes, which he said will generate revenue for the state by allowing existing businesses to grow and attracting new ones to California. He said if elected, he would cut all personal income tax rates by 10 percent, reduce sales and corporation taxes by 10 percent, and slash the capital gains tax in half.

But Poizner could not say how much that would cost California in the short-term, nor could he provide an estimate of how much tax revenue his plan would ultimately generate.

"We have another eight or nine months in this campaign," he said, referring to the June primary. "We'll be rolling out lots more details for you as this campaign goes through."

The other GOP gubernatorial candidate, former congressman Tom Campbell, criticized both of his opponents for failing to provide sufficient details about how they would revive California's economy and cut spending. Campbell released his own budget proposal in May detailing $17.5 billion in cuts.

"I think our party would be well-advised to choose a governor with experience that can present itself as a match" to the Democrats, he said.

Campbell, a five-term congressman, economics professor and former budget director to Schwarzenegger, also took issue with Poizner's strategy of cutting taxes as a way to boost tax revenue to the state.

"You cut first and then you can lower taxes," he said. "When we cut spending by 17 cents, then we can cut taxes by 17 cents."

Campbell has declined to comment on Whitman's voting record.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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