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 Times editorial, “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.
Schwarzenegger, of course, is cagey about personnel, holding his cards close to the vest. And it may be that political insiders put too much stock in appointees, which makes sense, since most operatives and reporters deal only with staff.
In terms of policy direction, Schwarzenegger — who has already shown a propensity for leaving his advisers in the dust when he feels like it — is more outgoing, insisting that he will govern from the center with major moves to shake things up.
But his balancing act between enough insiderdom to be effective in the Capitol and the much promised and very popular outsiderdom he espouses will be important to watch closely.
Schwarzenegger was amused when I told him he had been spotted during a post-election Sun Valley jaunt at the annual running of the sheep through the streets of Ketchum, the quaint village (in Arnoldspeak) best known to the world that cannot afford pricey ski villas as the site of Ernest Hemingway’s shotgun suicide. “Your spies are everywhere,” he said.
My spies also told me that Schwarzenegger held a transition meeting during the Sun Valley trip. Among those participating with the new governor was Donna Tuttle, wife of the late Reagan kitchen cabineteer Holmes Tuttle, someone not widely seen as a populist outsider.
Schwarzenegger’s Conan Cometh, er, California Comeback statewide bus tour culminated in a roaring rally of 10,000 Schwarzenegger enthusiasts outside the state Capitol on the Sunday before the election. The audience, which screamed its approval of the broom-wielding action hero’s dramatic vow to “clean house here,” is taking a great deal on faith with our Gulfstream Governor.
Schwarzenegger and Davis have their first meeting October 23. Amazingly, the two men had never met, and had never spoken before the governor conceded on election night.
How is it possible that Davis — who has been in and around Hollywood for 30 years — had managed not to be acquainted with Schwarzenegger, who has many Democratic friends?
The outgoing governor lost Warren Beatty’s phone number no fewer than four times when I gave it to him in the early ’90s. Beatty was Kathleen Brown’s key backer in Hollywood, and Davis was looking for a Hollywood buddy. But Davis proved to be much more comfortable with executives than with stars, a reason why I felt he might well stumble in a debate with Schwarzenegger, despite his greater command of governmental detail, even if he managed to secure a debate with the former Mr. Universe as a Hail Mary play to save his governorship.
Davis was never comfortable in debates, facing the bumbling Bill Simon only once during last year’s re-election campaign. Davis advisers say the governor demanded so much preparation with staff that he usually lost whatever performance he had in him before he ever got to the debate. We will never know if Davis would have been intimidated by the movie star, who is famous for his psyching out of opponents in bodybuilding and movies.
Davis was very friendly to Schwarzenegger in his election-night call, perhaps surprisingly so given the venom of his personal attacks on the governor-elect during the snarling close of the campaign. But he and his staff seem to be rising above the rancor of the campaign and their shock at its massive outcome, so the transition between the outgoing and incoming administrations is going more smoothly than many feared.