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Longtime Confidante Tapped as Senior Advisor

Schwarzenegger names Bonnie Reiss to key post, stirring grumbling from Indian casino interests.

November 05, 2003|Peter Nicholas and Dan Morain | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — With his fledgling government stocked mostly with strangers, Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger is turning to a trusted friend and self-described liberal Democrat to serve as a senior advisor in a role that will include beseeching Hollywood executives to keep jobs in California.

Schwarzenegger's transition team on Tuesday announced the appointment of Bonnie Reiss, 48, along with three other aides as the governor-elect moves to fill about two dozen top staff and Cabinet posts before his swearing-in Nov. 17. Schwarzenegger has made seven such hires to date.

Reiss' appointment stirred grumbling among some Indian casino interests, who pointed to her stint on the board of Pinnacle Entertainment, which owns casinos that compete with tribes for gamblers. Schwarzenegger wants to renegotiate compacts with Indian tribes so that California gets more gambling revenue.

Reiss stepped down from Pinnacle's board in the last few weeks in preparation for joining state government, said Rob Stutzman, who will serve as communications director in the new administration.

The appointments came on a day when Schwarzenegger's transition office fleshed out plans for the transfer of power:

Schwarzenegger is sending invitations to 7,500 campaign supporters, state legislators, members of Congress and dignitaries for a swearing-in 11 a.m. on Nov. 17 on the west steps of the Capitol.

That same day, Schwarzenegger plans to repeal a threefold increase in vehicle license fees approved by Gov. Gray Davis to narrow the budget gap. "Make no mistake: The increase ... will be rolled back on Day 1," Stutzman said.

The governor-elect is raising $250,000 to cover the costs of what aides say will be a quiet inaugural ceremony in light of the state's strapped finances. Donations will be capped at $15,000 apiece. Names of donors are to be disclosed no more than 24 hours after the money comes in.

Davis, in contrast, raised almost $1.6 million for his first inaugural during brighter economic days in 1999, including $250,000 from a single donor, Pacific Telesis. Half a dozen other donors, including three tribes that own casinos, gave $100,000.

The California Chamber of Commerce plans a reception on inauguration day for as many as 2,000 people at the Sacramento Convention Center, paid for by a variety of donors.

Schwarzenegger will call a special legislative session beginning Nov. 18 to address the cost of workers' compensation insurance and a law signed by Davis during the recall campaign that gives illegal immigrants the right to obtain driver's licenses.

In appointing Reiss, Schwarzenegger turned to someone close enough to him that his aides occasionally consulted her during the recall campaign when they wanted insight into how the candidate might react to an idea or plan. It was assumed she would know. Reiss is also a friend of the governor-elect's wife, Maria Shriver. She is a founding director of "Arnold's All-Stars," a Schwarzenegger nonprofit group that promotes after-school programs.

"Bonnie has been a friend and trusted advisor to me for nearly a quarter of a century," Schwarzenegger said.

The transition office said Reiss would not be available for comment. In an interview with The Times in August, two days after Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," Reiss did not seem eager to join the administration.

"I'm a liberal Democrat," she said. "Quite honestly, I'm not thinking about that right now. I live in Malibu and am not eager to move to Sacramento."

She said she had met Schwarzenegger and Shriver in 1978 when she was working in Washington for U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Shriver's uncle.

"One of the great strengths of being Arnold Schwarzenegger is his ability to reach out to tap people," she said. " ... Arnold loves getting the smartest people involved in things .... I was saying to Maria, he'll probably be the first Republican we'll ever vote for. Enthusiastically vote for."

Reiss is expected to be one of the most influential advisors in the Republican administration, aides said -- a role that might seem incongruous, given her political tastes.

Her portfolio will be broad. Apart from urging the entertainment industry to keep work in the state, she will also oversee children's programs and offer advice.

One conservative member of the Assembly, Ray Haynes (R-Murrieta), said he wasn't worried that Reiss would play so prominent a role.

"Keeping entertainment jobs in California is a good thing for a liberal Democrat to be doing," Haynes said. "That industry tends to gravitate toward liberal Democrats. Maybe they'll feel more at home with a liberal Democrat than someone like me."

But some Indian gambling interests are more wary of the appointment, given Reiss' association with Pinnacle.

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