Because California’s calamitous present — creative accounting as a rickety bridge to the next budget crisis, coming soon — might prefigure the nation’s future, next year’s gubernatorial election is portentous. An especially intriguing candidate in a colorful field is Tom Campbell. Colorful he is not. “Talk softly and carry a small calculator” could be his motto. What glitter, however, are his resume and agenda.
He has a Harvard law degree and a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago, where his faculty adviser was Milton Friedman. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Byron White. Working in the Reagan administration in 1983, in the wake of a severe recession, he assumed Reagan would lose in 1984 (“proof of my political acumen,” he says; Reagan carried 49 states) and accepted a professorship at Stanford’s law school. He represented Silicon Valley in Congress for five terms. He unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for Senate in 1992. He won the nomination in 2000 but lost the election. His third statewide run might work because, after Arnold Schwarzenegger’s childlike faith in personality as the conqueror of problems, blandness may be charismatic.
I remain skeptical of all politicians, this one included, but Campbell does for now seem to be better than the rest. A Chicago economist seems like the ideal (viable) candidate for understanding what the government should and should not do to ensure a healthy economy (answers: less and more, respectively). His stances on social issues aren't perfect, but he seems as libertarian as one can hope for from a major-party candidate for Governor of California.
George Will says that Campbell's two biggest rivals for the Republican nomination will likely be former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and tech entrepreneur Steve Poizner. In general, I trust entrepreneurs and business leaders much more than politicians to solve the world's problems. But I'm not so sure that great entrepreneurs make great politicians...it seems like their confidence in their past successes might lead to an overoptimistic idea of what they can solve as government officials. I don't want politicians trying to think of new, innovative ways to give away healthcare and subsidize farmers; I want them to realize the limits of government and leave the innovation to the private sector. A Chicago economist (I hope) would know enough to let the government do what it's best suited for: staying out of the way. It's just a thought and I have nothing to back it up with, but if you can think of an example supporting or undermining it, let me know in the comments.
Who knows...if Campbell impresses me enough, I might actually vote this time around!