Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman has resigned from three corporate boards for personal reasons, a turn-of-the-year move that would free her to run for governor of California.
Term limits mean Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican like Whitman, must leave the job in 2010, and high-profile figures in the Golden State from Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein to former high technology executives are considering making a run.
The job will be difficult, barring a major change in the economy: California is in crisis as housing foreclosures and unemployment rise and state revenues fall. Credit markets are closed to it and state coffers may be empty in about a month.
Whitman quit the boards of Procter and Gamble, eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY) and DreamWorks Animation SKG on Dec. 31 for personal reasons, spokesman Henry Gomez said.
The former online auction company chief had been considered by U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain as a potential Treasury secretary.
A person close to Whitman said that she had made a decision on whether or not to run for governor over the holidays and the board resignations were intended to clear the deck. They were also a fairly clear indication of her intention, the person said, declining to say specifically if she would run.
The decision would be clear within four to six weeks if she created an exploratory committee for her candidacy, the person said.
Two other Republicans have already formed exploratory committees for potential 2010 gubernatorial campaigns: State Insurance Commissioner and former tech entrepreneur Steve Poizner, as well as Tom Campbell, a former California Department of Finance Director and a former legislator from Silicon Valley.
Whitman’s business background could attract voters but as a novice politician she may be unprepared for the rough and tumble of politics, unlike Poizner and Campbell, said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and a former researcher at the Republican National Committee.
“She comes from business and claiming to have created jobs in this economy isn’t bad,” Pitney said.
“A big minus is she has never run for anything,” Pitney added. “When you’re a rookie running for governor mistakes can be very hurtful.”