Arnold’s Gray Day

More than a week after Arnold Schwarzenegger shocked the political world and enraged much of his own Republican Party by naming former Gray Davis official Susan Kennedy his chief of staff, his scene remains decidedly unsettled. Its disequilibrium was symbolically evident yesterday when the governor, fresh from a several-hour hospital stint for an irregular heartbeat, shared the spotlight with his former bitter rival, the recalled governor. The event was a packed gathering in the ornate state Capitol rotunda to unveil Davis’ portrait. Schwarzenegger needs a new Cabinet secretary, the gubernatorial aide who coordinates agency and department heads and handles sensitive policy matters, as current occupant Terry Tamminen, an environmentalist disliked by Republicans, shifts to a senior adviser slot. He also needs a communications director to replace the departing Rob Stutzman, a right-wing warrior who oversaw relations with the political consultants on Arnold’s defeated initiatives and losing campaigns against legislative Democrats. Kennedy, who did herself no favors by telling The Wall Street Journal she had no particular economic views when she was a leader in Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda’s Campaign for Economic Democracy, kept a very low profile in the rotunda, in contrast to fellow former Davis aide Dan Zingale, Maria Shriver’s new chief of staff, who, sitting in the middle of the second row, made himself impossible to miss. I looked for Kennedy but, like most I talked to, I never saw her. She did not attend the later Davis reception with hundreds of her former Democratic colleagues. Needless to say, she was never caught in a camera frame with Schwarzenegger and Davis.Oddly, considering Republican fury over the appointment, the Davis portrait unveiling was Schwarzenegger’s only public event of the day. And the schedule was set up that way before he spent a few hours at the UC Davis Medical Center suffering from a rapid heartbeat, attributed to a combination of the flu and his 1997 heart valve surgery. Davis met with Schwarzenegger for a half-hour before the portrait ceremony. With the right wing continuing to rampage over Kennedy’s appointment, the Governor’s Office released TV footage of Arnold working with his new chief of staff, accentuating his new gray hue.Republicans took offense when Schwarzenegger seemed to say he picked Kennedy because there were no qualified Republicans for the post. But it is probably true that she was the best qualified of the actual candidates in play. Former state Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte and former Pete Wilson chief of staff Bob White, who also managed Arnold’s campaign in the 2003 recall election, would both make strong chiefs of staff. But neither was deemed available given their lucrative lobbying/consulting careers. Each of the real potential candidates lacked Kennedy’s managerial experience or had a political problem. For example, Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, an ex–Assembly speaker, would have deepened Arnold’s image crisis with Latinos with his involvement in a 1988 voter intimidation incident which drew the wrath of the U.S. Justice Department.Waiting in line to go through security, I found Kathleen Brown patiently standing behind me. The former state treasurer and daughter and sister of former governors, now an investment banker with Goldman Sachs, was a rising national Democratic star in the early ’90s. She was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1994, losing to incumbent Republican Pete Wilson. It is difficult to defeat an incumbent governor. Had she waited to run in 1998, after Wilson’s term ended, she probably would have won, as Davis, her ’94 running mate and ex–chief of staff to her brother Jerry, would have been unlikely to oppose her and the Republicans had poor prospects. It may be that the recall would never have happened. Brown enjoys investment banking and has repeatedly said she doesn’t look back at “what if”s. During the Davis portrait event, she sat with Senate President Don Perata; perhaps they shared their enthusiasm for infrastructure bonds, which Perata proposed at a $10 billion level before Arnold shocked Republicans by upping the ante to $50 billion. (The working number is now said to be half that.)Former Davis chief of staff Lynn Schenk emceed, winning the no-class award of the day with cracks about the Davis administration continuing in the Arnold administration with Kennedy and Zingale. Schwarzenegger has done Schenk’s ex-boss a big favor by not taking the easy route of blaming him for the state’s ongoing woes. Arnold smiled dutifully but a clearly unamused Maria Shriver shot laser beams into Schenk’s back with her eyes.Arnold, looking just a little worse for wear as he stood for 45 minutes onstage, opened with a staff-promised explanation of his medical condition, consisting of two jokes: He has to exhibit an irregular heartbeat at times to show Republicans do have a heart, and he was just too excited on the eve of seeing what Gray’s portrait looks like. Ba-dump. Then he launched into an encomium to Davis which had me flashing back to his famous announcement on The Tonight Show in which he delivered a litany of California’s ills, laying them all at the feet of “this man, Gray Davis.” Now, however, Davis is a “wonderful” guy, “a true public servant” who has done “an incredible job” in “all the offices” he has held, “always fighting for the underdog, for the poor and for children.”He recounted how helpful Davis was in the transition period after the recall, giving “great advice.” Indeed, “Every time I need advice I can call him for great advice,” he said of the former governor. You don’t have to think Gray Davis is a terrible guy to find this terribly surrealistic. Even if Schwarzenegger were not already in a firestorm of Davis-related controversy with his own party. Davis, for his part, noting that since he is “a little to the left” and Arnold “a little to the right” they have much in common, declared he is “very excited” about Arnold’s big infrastructure bond, which is still being worked out. Also still being worked out is the shape of Schwarzenegger’s executive staff and campaign organization. Communications director Rob Stutzman, who seemed to the press to be more attuned to tossing brickbats than charting a real-world course for a moderate in the Governor’s Office he will soon depart, is now said to be out of Arnold’s campaign as well. When I asked him to comment, he replied, “Depends who told you.”When I reported last year that Dick Riordan was out as education secretary, Stutzman called it a “rumor.” A day later, the story changed. Riordan had “secretly resigned” a month earlier. I’m not sure that tactic is taught in PR school.But who replaces the masterminds of Arnold’s predictable massive November defeat is still up in the air. Strategist Mike Murphy is still on board but has been invisible the last few weeks. Schwarzenegger has no shortage of consultants already on board or in his circle. Indeed, he has the biggest political operation of any California governor in history. He needs to determine who can do what and make sure they do it. Murphy did very well in the recall as a frequent soloist in an ensemble, much less well calling the shots in the special election. (At a chamber of commerce retreat, he blamed the defeat on business not wasting more of its money on the campaign.)Republicans like to run re-election campaigns through the Governor’s Office. In other words, to have the governor campaign by governing rather than, say, running around to an endless string of prefab “town halls.” Susan Kennedy has that experience, though of course in working against Republicans and not with them. In addition to the still unfilled communications director job, the Cabinet secretary slot — unfilled, say Republicans, including some around Arnold, because Republicans don’t want to work with her — is key to re-election. It would be foolish to pick another Democrat. Republican policy analyst Ann Sheehan, Consumer Services Agency chief and ex-legislator Fred Aguiar, and Office of Planning & Research head Sean Walsh, a veteran political operative, have all been in play, with rumors swirling about who might take the job if picked. With his extensive campaign experience with Wilson and Schwarzenegger, Walsh is the logical choice — with the complication that he’s run into legal hurdles with aggressive defense of Arnold against groping charges. But then, haven’t we learned by now that nothing is really that simple in Schwarzworld? Just one more example of the shades of gray swirling around the governor, not just on Gray Davis Day in the Capitol but most every day these days.

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