Schwarzenegger sworn in, calls for rivals to unite
SACRAMENTO — In a state renowned for reinvention and eccentricity, bodybuilder-turned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, an Austrian immigrant, was sworn in Monday as governor of the nation’s most populous state.
Though the new governor sought a low-key inauguration, the event drew a worldwide television audience as well as 7,500 guests and 700 media members to the stately Corinthian columns and statuary of the Capitol’s west steps.
Facing 131-year-old cedars stretching two city blocks, Schwarzenegger acknowledged several times the daunting challenges he faces as a reformer and populist trying to right the state’s beleaguered finances and restore an angry public’s faith in government.
He won 48.6 percent of the vote last month among candidates seeking to oust Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat re-elected less than a year earlier to a second term. Davis’ ouster was the first recall of a sitting U.S. governor in 82 years.
Schwarzenegger, a Republican who never had held elective office, invoked “an immigrant’s optimism” in trying to build a coalition with the Democrat-controlled Legislature to erase a state debt that his aides said ranges from $8 billion to $30 billion.
“In the words of President Kennedy, ‘I am an idealist without illusions,'” said Schwarzenegger, sharing the rostrum with wife Maria Shriver and her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a sister of President John F. Kennedy.
“It’s true–things may get harder before they get better. But I’ve never been afraid of the struggle. I’ve never been afraid of the fight and I’ve never been afraid of the hard work,” the 56-year-old governor said.
After his speech, Schwarzenegger fulfilled a campaign promise by signing executive order No. 1, repealing the state’s recent tripling of the car tax.
He then signed proclamations convening a special session of the Legislature to address California’s fiscal crisis, reform the worker’s compensation system and overturn a law allowing undocumented immigrants to earn driver’s licenses.
Critics pay visit
Even as he reiterated his disdain for special interests running government, a watchdog non-profit group drove a billboard truck around the 12-block Capitol grounds that listed a dictionary’s definition of the phrase and questioned Schwarzenegger’s interpretation.
Jerry Flanagan, an activist with the non-partisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, accused Schwarzenegger of being influenced by “big business” and cited the new governor’s participation in a luncheon later in the day held by the California Chamber of Commerce.
Other demonstrators outside the fenced lawn focused on recent accusations by 16 women that Schwarzenegger groped them in the 1970s through 2000–behavior for
which he has apologized while offering no details. One women’s group continued
its call for an independent investigation.
Across the street from a luncheon held by the new governor and first lady, a 44-year-old Sacramento librarian, Rebecca Higgerson, held a placard saying, “Welcome to Calif. Theater of the Absurd Starring the Groper.”
Higgerson said she wanted to express “complete disgust” with voters electing an inexperienced politician to solve the state’s financial quagmire.
For one of the biggest Hollywood marquee names, Schwarzenegger drew a modest number of stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Rob Lowe, Danny DeVito, Tom Arnold and Vanessa Williams, who sang the national anthem.
With Shriver, an NBC News correspondent, holding a Kennedy family Bible nearly two centuries old, Schwarzenegger was sworn in by the state’s chief justice on a cool, crisp day. The four Schwarzenegger children also attended.
The event was intended to be modest, to avoid inflaming voters’ financial concerns. While Republican faithful including Charlene Hatakeyama, a former mayor of La Palma, Calif., found the pageantry appropriately unpretentious, others were awestruck.
Riordan gets education role
“I haven’t seen anything in a presidential inauguration like this,” said former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who now is Schwarzenegger’s education secretary.
After becoming governor, Schwarzenegger met with elected state and federal officials in the Capitol rotunda and told them that citizens were “very fed up” with government. He urged cooperation.
“We have to work together. We have no other choice,” he said. “We have Democrats that have brilliant ideas, Republicans that have brilliant ideas. Why should we not put those brilliant ideas together?”