Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger made his first post-election appearance at the state Capitol on Wednesday, filling the top job in his administration, announcing he would be inaugurated in Sacramento on Nov. 17, and promising to summon lawmakers the next day to help fulfill his campaign promises.
In a series of private meetings in and around the Capitol, Schwarzenegger made it clear he’s not interested in moving slowly.
He named and introduced his new chief of staff – Patricia Clarey – adding yet another longtime aide to former Gov. Pete Wilson – to his tight inner circle.
Promising to follow through on two highly contentious issues he hammered on during the gubernatorial recall campaign, Schwarzenegger said the special legislative session will deal with workers’ compensation reform and abolition of the new law to allow illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses.
If lawmakers don’t agree with him on the driver’s license law, he told them he’d actively support a proposed initiative that would ask voters to repeal the measure.
“It will be repealed,” he declared during the five minutes that a handful of reporters was allowed into one of the Capitol meetings.
With powerful state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton – a supporter of the driver’s license bill – sitting next to him, the Republican governor-elect said he had no hesitation about trying to undo legislation the Democratic-controlled Legislature approved with fanfare just weeks ago.
“We are looking at the total picture,” Schwarzenegger said. “There’s many, many different things that I want to change, that I will propose … Budgets, to workers’ compensation reform, the driver’s licenses. There’s endless amount of things. This whole package. And we go to work. That’s what it’s all about.”
When a television reporter asked whether it might be wiser to move slowly during his first days in office so he can learn about the Capitol and build alliances with Democrats, Schwarzenegger scoffed at the notion.
“Action, action, action, action,” Schwarzenegger said in characterizing his approach.
“That’s what people have voted me into this office for. They wanted to have a governor that is filled with action, that performs and that represents the people, and that’s what I’m here to do.”
If he doesn’t get his way in the Legislature, Schwarzenegger repeated his campaign pledge to take his case directly to voters. Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga said it’s no idle threat for a popular celebrity who was asked for his autograph by fans outside nearly all his appearances Wednesday.
“I think the Legislature needs to understand that this is a governor who has the unique ability to go over our heads and talk directly to the voters,” Brulte said.
The difference in personal style between Schwarzenegger and Gov. Gray Davis, the man voters ousted in the Oct. 7 election, was as obvious Wednesday as the gold on the Capitol dome.
Brulte, for instance, said he couldn’t recall Davis, who often seemed stiff and uncomfortable in dealing with lawmakers, ever coming to his third-floor Capitol office.
Schwarzenegger joked and made gentle wisecracks at his various stops, and didn’t seem to be the least bit offended when Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, D-Culver City, met him outside Wesson’s office with a tape measure and joked about newspaper reports questioning Schwarzenegger’s height.
“We’re going to settle this once and for all and find out how tall he is,” he said while extending his arm to the governor-elect.
Wesson told reporters afterward that Schwarzenegger “would not let me measure him, but my guess is he’s about 6 feet.” Wesson also said the two have “similar personalities. He’s just bigger and I’m better looking.”
The liberal Burton could be Schwarzenegger’s biggest stumbling block in the Legislature, especially because he helped put the immigrant driver’s license bill on Davis’ desk and passed a health insurance bill for businesses that Schwarzenegger roundly criticized during the recall campaign.
But the two seemed to hit it off in their brief public encounter when they joked about Burton’s legendary temper, the movie star friends they shared – Jamie Lee Curtis and Tom Arnold, Schwarzenegger said – and how Burton has been to Austria, the governor-elect’s homeland, and sampled the native Wiener schnitzel.
“I had so much fun today going to all those different offices of Democratic leaders,” Schwarzenegger said between meetings that later included a sit-down with Ronald George, chief justice of the California Supreme Court, and a private dinner in the office of Bill Lockyer, the Democratic attorney general who said he voted for Schwarzenegger.
“It was terrific. Because they were all upbeat. They said, ‘This is great. We want to work with you.’ Like I always said in my campaign, I’m an optimistic person. I think there’s certain things that can be done and maybe there’s some things that can’t. But I’m optimistic and I think there’s a lot of things we can do together.”
He is scheduled to meet with Davis and other statewide officeholders – all Democrats – today.
One early legislative battleground could be the driver’s license bill, which Davis signed into law despite vetoing similar legislation last year. Critics said he was pandering to Latino voters during the recall campaign.
Schwarzenegger and others said giving licenses to undocumented workers presents security risks and is insulting to immigrants – like him – who waited to become citizens.
With Schwarzenegger at his side, Burton called the concern “much ado about nothing,” but added that he wanted to talk to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, before deciding how to proceed.
“I don’t believe undocumented people would be blowing up buildings, but that’s just my point of view,” Burton said.
No matter how his relations with the Democratic Legislature shape up, Schwarzenegger seemed to score points with his choice of Clarey, 50, for the important job of chief of staff.
Brulte called her an “excellent appointment,” and she was credited with helping steer Schwarzenegger’s campaign for governor when she came on board after a faltering start.
Not everyone was pleased, however. Clarey’s last job was vice president for government relations at Health Net Inc., a large Los Angeles-based health maintenance organization, and a consumer group took strong exception to the appointment.
“It’s a clear violation of a pledge (Schwarzenegger) made to the voters while running for office to stand up to special interests in Sacramento,” Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights said in a press release.
Others praised Clarey as someone of high integrity who’s known for subjugating her own political views to the officials she’s served.
She held senior positions at the Interior Department under former President Reagan and also worked for the first President Bush. She spent eight years as Wilson’s deputy chief of staff, serving under Bob White, another Schwarzenegger adviser.
“I bet most of the people who worked with her don’t know where she stands on any number of issues,” said Dan Schnur, a Republican political consultant who worked with her in Wilson’s office.
The Bee’s Gary Delsohn can be reached at (916) 326-5545 or [email protected].
Aurelio Rojas of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.