Governor to start 2nd term with glitz, bipartisanship

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The San Francisco Chronicle

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s second term will kick off next month with a roster of gala events that mirror his own unique re-election campaign: a little Hollywood glitz, a little bipartisan bonding — and a lot of deep-pocketed donors footing the bill.

The governor’s inauguration team announced Tuesday that — in what it called the bipartisan spirit of the Jan. 5 swearing in the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium.

The invocation at the 11 a.m. ceremony will be delivered by Pastor J. Alfred Smith Sr., who heads the Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland — a favorite of Democratic politicians like Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee. California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George will deliver the oath of office as Schwarzenegger begins a second term.

A Democratic icon, Willie Brown, former San Francisco mayor and Assembly speaker, will be master of ceremonies at the event.

Both Schwarzenegger and first lady Maria Shriver will then host a bipartisan reception in the Capitol Rotunda for members of the Legislature and for state constitutional officers.

The fancy formal start to the Republican governor’s second term marks a dramatic shift from his first swearing-in in 2003, a low-key event that followed the bitter recall election.

This time around, the governor’s team has opted for a gala series of events organized by executive producer Carl Bendix, who heads Los Angeles-based Ambrosia Productions. Bendix is part of a team that includes Grammy-winning music producer David Foster, who will handle the entertainment, according to recent reports in Special Events magazine.

“Following the televised swearing-in will be a tented luncheon for 400 on the steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento, then a black-tie ‘California Dreaming’ gala for 1,500 guests at the city’s convention center featuring cuisine from noteworthy restaurants throughout the state,” the magazine reported. A less formal public “people’s event” is scheduled for Jan. 4, but details haven’t been released yet.

“Gov. Schwarzenegger, working with the Legislature, has ushered in a new era of bipartisanship in Sacramento,” said Reed Galen, executive director of the Governor’s 2007 Inaugural Committee, in a statement released Tuesday. He said the inauguration will “set the tone for another productive year centered on tackling the issues most important to Californians.”

To pay for the two-day spectacular — which is not taxpayer-funded — the inaugural committee, headed by Schwarzenegger chief fundraiser Marty Wilson, has approached supporters and corporations. Among the pitches they’ve gotten: to take on $50,000 “gold” sponsorships (10 reception tickets, four inaugural tickets and a table for 10 at a legislative luncheon) or $15,000 “silver” sponsorships of the event.

The committee is a nonprofit organization, and although it is not legally required to divulge the donors, it may soon begin making the donations public — as former governors have done.

But watchdog groups say the galas hosted by Schwarzenegger are still deeply distressing.

“It reminds me of the wedding scene in the ‘Godfather,’ when the whole syndicate is gathering to kiss the ring,” says Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “Every time the glass is raised, it makes you wonder how many favors to the big companies financing will come out of the taxpayers’ pockets.”

Court says the governor should make a statement — and pay his own tab.

“I know it’s expensive to throw a big party, but I think he can handle it,” Court said. “He’s got the money. Why shake down donors? How much could it possibly be?”

Rose Ann DeMoro, who heads the California Nurses Association — a group that unsuccessfully pushed for a “clean money” initiative to curb the influence of big donors in November’s election — argues that the inaugural events this month are in direct conflict with Schwarzenegger’s early promises to sweep Sacramento clean of special interests.

“Money comes in, favors go out, the people lose — that’s what Arnold said the first time he ran,” said DeMoro.

“What (Schwarzenegger) has to be concerned about, from my perspective, is a recall if he continues along this path,” she said, “because people will get very angry.”

Julie Soderlund, communications director for the inaugural events, said donors have no influence on the governor’s actions.

“The governor will continue to do what he believes is in the best interest of the people of California,” she said.

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