Schwarzenegger’s second inauguration promises to be lavish affair

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The San Jose Mercury News (California)

SACRAMENTO, CA — He may have trouble cutting a rug while clutching crutches, but a hobbled Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to christen his second term in inimitable style next week with a lavish, $1 million-plus celebration.

In contrast to his somewhat subdued 2003 swearing-in, the governor’s aides are planning a two-day fete this time around. The highlight will be Schwarzenegger’s swearing-in at 11 a.m. Friday in front of about 3,000 guests at Sacramento’s historic Memorial Auditorium, where guitarist and singer Jose Feliciano will perform the national anthem.

The governor, who broke a thigh bone in a recent ski accident, has made no attempt to scale down the festivities. Schwarzenegger said in a recent statement released by his staff that he is looking forward to the event “even if it means I have to walk into my swearing-in ceremony on crutches.”

There will still be a fair helping of Hollywood ritz, with singers Donna Summer and Paul Anka entertaining guests at a black-tie, $500-a-person “Celebrate the California Dream” gala. Add to that some populist and bipartisan flair (an open-to-the-public kickoff at Capitol Park highlighting environmental issues and a swearing-in emceed by former San Francisco mayor and Assembly speaker Willie Brown, a Democrat.) Mix in the requisite frisson of controversy as the governor attends a swanky private dinner Thursday for inaugural donors, many of whom have an interest in the governor’s 2007 policy agenda.

In other words, expect a blowout befitting California’s Tinseltown governor — several notches above the politically proper “swearing-in” staged for Schwarzenegger after the tumultuous 2003 recall election. All events except the public kick-off are sold out.

“The last time, the governor came in under very unusual circumstances and the state was in a condition of stress — financial and political stress,” said state librarian emeritus Kevin Starr. “This time, Schwarzenegger has earned it on his own terms. I think it’s appropriate that we celebrate a little bit.”

Three years ago, the state’s economy was in the tank and Schwarzenegger reflected the mood with a $200,000-plus celebration sans inaugural ball. His swearing-in on the Capitol steps was followed by several luncheons and his signing of an executive order repealing the tripling of the vehicle license fee. Ten months earlier, a denim-clad Gray Davis channeled austerity by launching his short-lived second term with a day of community service and a folksy barbecue.

This year’s event is being designed by “executive producer” Carl Bendix, a Schwarzenegger family friend and production designer for such events as the Academy Awards Governor’s Ball.

So far, the governor’s chief fundraiser, Marty Wilson, has raised at least $1.35 million through donations to the nonprofit inaugural committee. It’s typical for private donors, rather than taxpayers, to pay for the festivities. By law, donor names can be kept private, but the governor’s aides are making them public, which is also common practice.

For at least $50,000, “gold” sponsors of the event are entitled to 10 tickets to the private Thursday cocktail reception; four reserved seats to the swearing-in and 10 reserved tickets to the inaugural ball. “Silver” sponsors, who must contribute at least $15,000, get two tickets to the reception, the swearing-in and the ball.

Donors include many interests that are vested in Schwarzenegger’s 2007 agenda. The California Chamber of Commerce ($50,000), plus the Association of California Life and Health Insurance Companies, the California Hospital Association and the California Medical Association (all $15,000) are all likely players in the governor’s push to vastly expand access to health care this year.

The California Business Roundtable, which is a player in many state issues, chipped in $15,000. Group president Bill Hauck said his members all provide employee health care and aren’t much focused on the year of health care. The group has also given to Democrat Jack O’Connell’s inauguration for a second term as schools chief, Hauck said.

“We’re generally supportive of the governor,” Hauck said. “And that would be true of any governor, actually.”

Chevron ($50,000), ConocoPhillips and the California Independent Petroleum Association ($15,000 each) have a stake in the implementation of a landmark global warming bill. The California Chamber, plus the California Building Industry Association and the California State Building & Construction Trades ($15,000) stand to gain as the state starts spending about $37 billion in recently-approved infrastructure bonds.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a frequent critic of Schwarzenegger’s $100-million-and-counting fundraising apparatus, derides the “inauguration slush fund” for offering “secret access to the governor and legislators.”

The governor’s staff maintains that Schwarzenegger will not be swayed by the donations, which save taxpayer expense.

Schwarzenegger “acts in what he believes to be the best interests of the people of California,” said spokeswoman Julie Soderlund. “Those who contribute do so because they believe in his vision for the future of the state.”

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