A CU CEO Seems A Natural For Governor of California

Register now

One-hundred and thirty-four candidates running for governor of California and not a credit union CEO in the bunch?

Doesn't that seem a little hard to believe given that California's CUs are the most savvy and best funded at the state level and that 9.4 million Californians are credit union members? Heck, if the half-million members of The Golden 1 Credit Union-which serves state employees-were all to vote for CEO Teresa Halleck for governor, she'd have a shot at the job, and wouldn't even have to move.

Why not a credit union CEO, or even someone in senior management, for the job Gray Davis may or may not keep? Leading the race is a guy hopeful of dumping his boss and another who rose to fame largely on the basis of steroids. Then there are washed-up actors, former child TV stars, a guy who brought on the collusion charges to Major League Baseball, and an actress in porn movies, (who, given what is done to the average citizen in most legislatures, may be most qualified, in my opinion).

Just consider the similarities between a Help Wanted ad for a governor and a credit union CEO:

Position Available: Leader needed to take charge of diverse organization with statewide presence. This individual must have experience in overseeing large workforce in flux, meeting the often mutually-opposing demands of its constituency, balancing a budget. Key consideration will be ability to mesh with body composed of egomaniacs, backstabbers and micromanagers. Position includes house, car and driver, briefings on security issues. Send resumes, along with names of at least 65 friends who believe you are qualified for position, to .

So why not a credit union CEO in the race? There are plenty out there who have turned around Camel 5 operations and who are already familiar with the not-for-profit philosophy plainly evident in Sacramento. And if you've ever been privy to some of the behind-the-scenes planning related to who speaks and doesn't speak at a credit union conference, then you know credit unions know how to do politics.

"Now that we've succeeded with the privacy bill, maybe someone should run," said Barry Jolette, president of San Mateo Credit Union.

When I told Jolette I was starting a rumor that he was stepping down as CUNA Chairman in order to run for governor, he laughed and said he wouldn't stand in the way of my spreading the gossip. "There are some days I thought it would be easier to run the state (than CUNA). It's just reaffirming once again that California is indeed the land of fruits and nuts."

Jolette said he doesn't envy whomever ends up winning the governor's race, which in this strange election, could be the governor. "I believe that the financial problems are so difficult that whoever is elected is not going to have a fun time," said Jolette, who believes California's CUs would be wise to "stand on the sideline" in this race. "It's very difficult. We in California, and I guess this is true of other states, want everything and we don't really want to pay for it, and the legislature is willing to give it to us. It's just an impossible situation in Sacramento."

Jolette drew another parallel that would seem to indicate a credit union CEO is just right for the job. "The state is really no better than some of our worst borrowers," he pointed out. "In many ways it's typical of those we criticize for filing for bankruptcy. It's like a person who has financial problems and who keeps putting off dealing with the issue. And then it's like the many borrowers who blame us for giving them the credit."

But there are big differences between what the most-able credit union manager can do, and what any governor can do, according to one CEO.

"I don't think a credit union CEO could fix it," observed Pat Wagner, manager of New World Credit Union in Lafayette, Calif. "If we had even one qualified person there or running they still wouldn't be able to do it, because it's not the governor. The real issue is getting better people in the Senate and the Assembly. It's still going to be a mess."

In other words, it's like being the greatest CU CEO in the world, with a board composed of Enron execs, Arthur Andersen accountants and Internet stock flacks.

"There are still way too many politicians who are playing the good old boy game, and term limits have made it worse," said Wagner. "With term limits you have to hurry up and make a name for yourself so you can move up. The other thing is they can keep legislating stuff, but it's the people who have got to hold them accountable. Even if we get people out to vote, people still have to hold the legislature accountable for how it votes. I don't think that one person could fix it. But if we could get better people in the Senate and Assembly, that would work."

Whether a credit union CEO could make it work or not might be a moot point, really. Wouldn't it be worth it to see a CEO elected governor just to watch the banks gnash their teeth over this first sign of the Apocalypse?

Frank J. Diekmann is editor of The Credit Union Journal, and is currently not running for governor of California. He can be reached at fdiekmann cujournal.com.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
MORE FROM AMERICAN BANKER