By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The voice on the cell phone sounded somewhat familiar. But not so familiar that I didn’t ask who it was. “It’s Arnold,” he said. The action-movie superstar turned governor-elect of California had just come from the dentist. And he sounded a little tired. But no less ebullient than usual, allowing as how “the governor thing,” as I call it, seemed to be working out. “I’m going to do a book,” said Schwarzenegger. “How To Become a Governor in 60 Days.”
Actually, the early reviews are good for the landslide winner of California’s historic recall election. Even if they are a little misleading.
No less an authority than Jerry Brown, who was the last California governor of any particular interest to the public and who created Gray Davis by making him his chief of staff, says of the advent of Arnold: “There is a refreshing note to all of this.” Schwarzenegger, the maverick Democratic mayor of Oakland notes, “ran against special interests, said he’ll do right by the people and has shown unprecedented good will with bipartisan appointments to his transition team.” Or, to put it another way, hasta la vista, Gray.
Jerry Brown is always interesting and an old friend, but, ah, he’s not quite right. Much has been made, by Schwarzenegger and now by the media — which, in classic front-running mode, mostly trashed him as a candidate and mostly love him as a big winner — of the new governor’s transition team, which, as he puts it, “goes from the right with Bill Simon to the left with Willie Brown.” Credulous journos note that Willie Brown, the legendary Democratic power-broker Assembly speaker turned San Francisco mayor, strongly backed Davis in the election and opposed Schwarzenegger. But the truth, as is often the case, is more than a little different than it appears. Like the Schwarzenegger transition team, this window is very well-dressed.
Yes, Willie Brown is a famously partisan Democrat who fiercely and very publicly opposed the Davis recall. But no matter what the dapper don of Democratic politics said, he was never really especially opposed to Schwarzenegger. Indeed, the two men repeatedly campaigned together last year for the actor/businessman’s winning Proposition 49 afterschool programs initiative. Talking at a San Francisco reception last fall about the Weekly’s report that Schwarzenegger quietly polled about his prospects as a write-in candidate in last year’s gubernatorial election, the former self-styled “ayatollah of California politics” said, “I told Gray he better stop calling on Bill Simon to drop out of the race” (after Simon falsely claimed he had a photo of Davis illegally accepting a contribution in his Capitol office), “because if he does Arnold will run as a write-in and he will win!” Last summer, after the governor’s lightly attended anti-recall kickoff rally in San Francisco, built around the disastrous Democratic theme that the recall would lead to a right-wing takeover, I asked Willie Brown what he would do if his moderate friend Arnold ran for governor. Seeming startled, he wanted no part of the question. “We would just have to beat him,” he said, before abruptly changing the subject.
So Willie Brown’s inclusion is really no surprise, especially since he is not all that left-wing these days. With his term-limited tenure as mayor drawing to a close and a possible run for the term-limited John Burton’s state Senate seat looking dicey due to Brown’s unpopularity in Marin County, the man whose record-setting tenure as Assembly speaker sparked the term-limits movement can use a new gig.
Schwarzenegger’s transition team does represent the bipartisanship he promises, with other big-name Democrats including several Angelenos: Mayor Jim Hahn, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg (who is definitely not window-dressing and is quite active in transition planning) and Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign manager, Susan Estrich. But it is a group of mostly insiders, and a study of the roster shows it to skew heavily to the moderate conservative end of the spectrum, with corporate credentials predominating.
While Schwarzenegger notes correctly that only a few Pete Wilson alums made the team, the most important transition figure is probably one who is not on the list. And he is very much a Wilson alum.
Former Wilson chief of staff Bob White is the Jonathan Higgins of Team Arnold. Like the character in the old Magnum, P.I. TV series, White, a moderate himself who consults with major corporate interests, is the affable and very knowing major-domo who helps the rambunctious star and his crew find their way through mysterious circumstances. Don’t be surprised if a lot of insiders with similar credentials end up with big jobs.
A certain element of studied marketing shows in Schwarzenegger’s presentation of his transition team, and it should be no surprise. This is a guy who studied the showmanship and salesmanship of Muhammad Ali. The team is notably light on labor leaders (perhaps no surprise, since labor bet very heavily on Davis) and environmentalists. Nevertheless, Schwarzenegger is reaching out to environmentalists. Already pleased by a New York Timeseditorial, “Conan the Green,” extolling Schwarzenegger’s ideas, top environmental lobbyist John White says he was impressed by a private conference call with a key Schwarzenegger adviser.