Resignations follow California Chamber of Commerce's endorsement of Whitman

The president of the University of California and the chancellor of the California community college system have quit the California Chamber of Commerce board of directors after the group voted to endorse Republican Meg Whitman for governor.

The endorsement is the latest example of the state's largest business organization increasing its political profile.

Jack Scott, a former Democratic state senator from Pasadena who was appointed as community college chancellor by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, announced his resignation Friday in a letter to chamber President Allan Zaremberg after the endorsement vote.

"I do not believe the board is using sound judgment by catapulting the California Chamber of Commerce into the center of a fierce political contest," Scott wrote. "…It is destructive to the chamber's core mission and the businesses it represents when it becomes a partisan operation."

UC President Mark G. Yudof suspended his membership last week in anticipation of the vote.

"As the president of a public university, I cannot take sides in electoral politics," Yudof wrote in a letter to Zaremberg. "I must preserve my politically agnostic status."

He left open the possibility of returning to the board if he could serve as a "nonvoting, ex officio" member. Charles B. Reed, chancellor of the California State University system, also sits on the board; he did not attend Friday's meeting because of the endorsement, a spokesman said, but remains on the board.

The chamber has traditionally stayed out of partisan politics, even though the group is often seen as Republican-friendly. In 2003, it backed Schwarzenegger with its first endorsement for governor in its 112-year history.

Earlier this year, the group withdrew an advertising campaign that some of its members complained was a political attack on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown and undermined the organization's credibility. The complaining board members, attorney George Kieffer, Los Angeles developer Kevin Ratner, movie producer Robert Simonds and land use attorney Cindy Starrett, said the board had not authorized attacks on candidates.

Brown and his wife, former Gap Chief Operating Officer Anne Gust, had mounted a lobbying effort to get the chamber to pull the spot, which Zaremberg did after it had aired for less than two full days.

Now the chamber apparently plans to advocate openly for Whitman. The organization has booked time to begin running television commercials next week.

Zaremberg was traveling Friday and could not be reached for comment.

The chamber board is filled with California business leaders, some of whom have contributed to Brown throughout his political career. Safeway Executive Vice President Larree Renda is chairwoman of the board; her company donated $15,000 to Brown's gubernatorial campaign in April.

Former Gov. Pete Wilson, co-chairman of Whitman's campaign, also sits on the chamber board. Wilson was not present at Friday's meeting but recorded a video statement that was played for the board urging a strong endorsement of Whitman's candidacy.

Zaremberg heralded the endorsement in a statement Friday, saying: "Many of our board members expressed confidence in having a person with business experience run the state."

Anthony York is editor of The Times' state politics and government blog, PolitiCal.

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