Schwarzenegger recruits press aide from CNN;

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3rd Wilson staffer joins eclectic mix from left, right

The San Francisco Chronicle

SACRAMENTO — Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday announced a former Wilson administration official would join his staff as press secretary, and sources said he was preparing to name an environmental activist from Southern California as head of the state’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Margita Thompson, who will leave her job as a producer for CNN’s “Larry King Live” to become Schwarzenegger’s lead contact with the media, is the third member of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson’s administration to take a job with Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger shrugged off criticism from Democrats during the recall campaign that he relied too heavily on Wilson and his former staff for advice, saying he would bridge the gap between the parties. Political observers note, however, that since his election he has given former Wilson officials two of the most important jobs in Sacramento, as chief of staff and cabinet secretary.

But the actor-turned-governor, who campaigned as a force for change in the bitterly partisan Capitol, also has begun to assemble an eclectic staff that crosses party lines and appears to reflect his campaign image as a pro-business Republican with some progressive streaks.

Announced appointees so far include Bonnie Reiss, a liberal Democrat and old family friend who will serve as senior adviser, and Peter Siggins, a top assistant to Democratic Attorney General Bill Lockyer who will be the administration’s head lawyer.

Schwarzenegger also has asked Robert Presley, who has worked under outgoing Gov. Gray Davis as secretary of the state’s corrections agency, to remain in his position, people familiar with the agency confirmed.

And as early as today, sources say Schwarzenegger is expected to officially announce Terry Tamminen as his EPA secretary. Tamminen is the head of the Santa Monica-based Environment Now and described himself as “an unabashed tree hugger” in a 1999 opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Daily News.

Environmentalists are cheering the choice.

State government will tackle key environmental issues in the next few years, particularly implementing legislation signed by Davis to force automakers to reduce pollution from cars and efforts to better Central Valley air quality. Naming a champion of the environment to head the EPA shows Schwarzenegger may keep his pledge to be a green Republican, environmental advocates said.

“CAL EPA is an important signal as to the direction the administration is going to take,” said Ann Notthoff of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Other Schwarzenegger choices have been culled from more traditional Sacramento sources. Richard Costigan, who has been the chief lobbyist for the California Chamber of Commerce, was named last week as the new governor’s chief liaison to the Legislature. Heading up the state’s agriculture department under Schwarzenegger will be A.G. Kawamura, an Orange County farmer who served as chairman of the Western Growers Association, a powerful lobbying presence in Sacramento.

“(The appointees) are consistent with his agenda to make job growth a top priority for California,” said Alan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, in praising Schwarzenegger’s appointments.

Others portray some of the appointments as a sign that Schwarzenegger will favor big business. Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said he was “appalled” by the appointments of Costigan and Patricia Clarey, an HMO executive who will be chief of staff.

“This is far worse than big business influencing the governor’s office,” Court said. “This is big business merging with the governor’s office.”

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Karen Hanretty said the governor-elect was looking for a diverse group who “won’t mimic his viewpoints” to work with him. Schwarzenegger still has crucial appointments left to fill, such as heads of the health and human services agency and the resources agency. But some say the top jobs have already gone to long-time Republican operatives. Clarey worked for Wilson, as did new cabinet secretary Marybel Batjer.

“The Wilson folks are in pretty important jobs,” said Barbara O’Connor, a political science professor at Sacramento State University. “Not all positions are equal.”
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