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A New Sheriff in Town 

Gov. Arnold starts the revolution

Thursday, Nov 20 2003
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The 38th governorship of California launched like a movie premiere, with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in between movie star and politician mode, projecting his image to teeming masses and swiftly greeting elites in classy, closed-door parties. It may mark the start of an era of political renewal in the tarnished Golden State, or it may mark a wild new phase in California’s ongoing political devolution.

First Lady Maria Shriver checked out the impressive outdoor stage setup Sunday afternoon with the couple’s four children, who practiced their part in the Pledge of Allegiance. She directed much of the day’s planning, and did finishing work with Schwarzenegger on his 12-minute address. The speech was a collaboration between Reagan speechwriter extraordinaire Landon Parvin and Kennedy speechwriting ace Bob Shrum. On inaugural day, fate intervened for Schwarzenegger, described as "the luckiest man in the world" by one associate, as the sun broke through as he spoke on a Sacramento day that usually would have been enshrouded in fog.

Heartfelt and well-conceived, the action movie superstar’s speech was the statement of a 21st century Hiram Johnson, its new-wave Progressive message emphasizing the point that the recall election which gave rise to the once seemingly fanciful new governorship of the former Mr. Universe was not simply about rejecting former Governor Gray Davis "but about changing the entire political climate of our state." Likening the entrenched partisan divisions of Sacramento to the crisis of 1787 which led to the U.S. Constitution, Governor Arnold laid out his thematic template for what he hopes will be a fusion administration to revive California as "the golden dream by the sea."

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After praising Gray Davis for his grace during the transition, noting that the recall was not merely about him, Schwarzenegger declared that California has become the state with the biggest budget deficit, worst credit rating, most expensive workers’ compensation system, and so on. Oddly, Davis smiled throughout this litany, bringing to mind the old Mad magazine line, "Why is this man smiling?" But as the inaugural address went on, with Schwarzenegger clearly taking command before the 7,500 seated and standing guests and a global television audience, the recalled governor appeared stricken, his smile turned to a deep frown. Sharon Davis comforted him by taking his hand.

According to his ex-boss, former Governor Jerry Brown, his longtime chief of staff lingered after Schwarzenegger’s swearing-in, though he was gone from the capital by mid-afternoon when the new governor was attending the third and least exclusive of his three inaugural luncheons, an affair for more than 2,000 sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce at the convention center. Davis’ future plans remain as up in the air as the Southwest Airlines flight by which he departed the city where he has spent much of the past 30 years.

After the politicians luncheon in the Capitol Rotunda, Jerry Brown joined the family and friends luncheon at the venerable Sutter Club, named for the man who started the California Gold Rush. Asked how it felt to be in "the lions’ den" with all those Republicans and his two Republican successors, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, Brown quipped, "No, they’re pussycats."

Brown has repeatedly praised Schwarzenegger and seems enthused about the new political era. "It’s a time again for reinvention in California," declared the two-time Democratic presidential candidate. "He has a real opportunity here."

L.A. Mayor Jim Hahn is enthusiastic, too, though he wonders where the money will come from to replace the money for local government that comes from the reduction in the car tax, which Schwarzenegger had just slashed as his first official act. Still, "we get along well. And it’s good to have a governor from L.A. You know Gray lives in West Hollywood," he joked.

Former Governor Deukmejian allowed as how Schwarzenegger is "more liberal" than he but probably needs to be. "It’s a changed state," he said, "very different" from what it was in his 1980s tenure.

Former Governor Wilson, acknowledged that Schwarzenegger must draw "from an eclectic group." Easy for him to say, since his former staffers and appointees have the most visible pedigrees in the nascent administration.

But Wilson, a very capable man who stumbled on immigration and energy policy, seems comfortable with a wide variety of voices having influence with Schwarzenegger. In any event, it is what the new governor wants. As befits a man whose latest movie, Terminator 3, moved into the all-time top 50 in worldwide box office the day before he was elected governor, Schwarzenegger had a crew of stars on hand, as well as many of his in-laws in the Shriver and Kennedy families, including Maria’s close friend Caroline Kennedy, daughter of John F. Kennedy.

"We’re FOAs," quipped Jamie Lee Curtis, "Friends of Arnold." Curtis, smartly attired in a pantsuit which the pants-hating Arnold of the 1980s might have decried, is a Democrat as are most among the ranks of Danny DeVito, Rob Lowe, Vanessa Williams, Tom Arnold, Tia Carrera, Linda Hamilton and Dennis Miller.

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