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GOP Moderates Back the Big Guy

The New Majority, a group of O.C.'s wealthy, declares its support for Schwarzenegger.

August 14, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

It was 6 p.m. when the call arrived, an hour after actor Arnold Schwarzenegger had stunned California's political establishment by announcing on "The Tonight Show" that he would run to replace Gov. Gray Davis in the Oct. 7 recall election.

Schwarzenegger was on the line, calling potential supporters at the New Majority, the Orange County-based group of more than 100 wealthy, moderate Republicans who'd backed Richard Riordan for governor last year and encouraged the actor to take a stab at public office.

Schwarzenegger, the star attraction at a New Majority gala last year, arranged for a speaker phone to be sent into the private room at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach. There, New Majority board members were meeting with Gerry Parsky, the attorney who is President Bush's political point man in California.

The candidate thanked the group for its past support and said he hoped he could count on them in the governor's race, chairman Lawrence M. Higby said.

"The meeting took a whole different turn" once Schwarzenegger declared he was in, Higby said. "There was this feeling of joy and excitement."

On Wednesday, a week after the actor and former bodybuilder entered the race, the group's membership overwhelmingly voted to make that support official, formally endorsing Schwarzenegger.

Orange County is probably the last place some would expect to lift the political fortunes of Schwarzenegger, a social liberal who supports abortion rights, gun control and government spending on programs for the young and the elderly.

At first glance, he appears a bad fit for the place that bills itself the home of rock-ribbed conservatism -- even though he does have a bust of Ronald Reagan in his office.

In reality, Higby said, Orange County is no more monolithic than Schwarzenegger is monosyllabic.

"This is a new Republican Party that is much more cognizant of social issues like education and immigration and infrastructure," said Higby, a health-care company executive. "If we weren't, our businesses wouldn't be successful."

New Majority's political action committee and its individual members are expected to contribute generously to Schwarzenegger's campaign. Many members also support moderate Republican candidate Peter Ueberroth, a Laguna Beach resident and former baseball commissioner.

In less than four years, the group has become the largest Republican donor group in California, spreading some $2.5 million in political contributions to more than 50 Republican candidates statewide. In 2000, it helped raise $3.2 million for George W. Bush.

Last year, the group was a key backer of Riordan, donating $150,000 to his gubernatorial primary campaign against Bill Simon Jr. Group co-founder Mark Chapin Johnson served as Riordan's state finance chairman. After the primary, the group gave $225,000 to primary winner Simon, who is running in the October recall race.

New Majority endorses only one candidate, who becomes the beneficiary of its political action committee's hefty contribution. But individual members are free to contribute to candidates of their choice.

It was Schwarzenegger who introduced Simon at the New Majority's gala in March 2002 -- and his speech "was more impressive than the candidate's," Higby said.

Schwarzenegger campaign spokeswoman Karen Hanretty said the actor was grateful for the New Majority's support of Proposition 49, his successful initiative last year that could steer up to $455 million a year to after-school programs. "Arnold looks forward to working with them in this campaign," she said.

Schwarzenegger's relations with the group date to 2001. That was the year he called New Majority board member Paul Folino, founder and CEO of high-tech firm Emulex, to ask if Folino would help raise money for Proposition 49. Folino and his wife, Daranne, traveled to the actor's Pacific Palisades home to dine with him and his wife, television journalist Maria Shriver.

Folino eventually became the campaign's secretary and one of the three largest donors to Proposition 49. Schwarzenegger returned the favor by helping raise funds for a new film and television studio at Chapman University -- a $30-million effort chaired by Folino.

"Arnold was attracted to the New Majority because he's a mainstream Republican who shares our view of a big-tent, inclusive party," Folino said.

The group's membership has grown to more than 100, many becoming actively engaged in politics for the first time. The membership roster includes CEOs and executives from dozens of new-technology businesses that didn't exist 20 years ago.

Its founding members include Henry Samueli, founder of technology giant Broadcom; Nicolas Shahrestany, founder of Procom Technologies; Terry Hartshorn, vice chairman of PacifiCare; and Don Beall, former CEO of Rockwell.

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