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A Good Start, but ...

November 06, 2003

Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger promised that the people he hired would reflect the people of California. He's off to a good start. One key advisor, Bonnie Reiss, is a self-described liberal Democrat who once worked for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Schwarzenegger's uncle-in-law. Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a moderate Republican like the governor-elect, will be education secretary. His Food and Agriculture choice is a real farmer, Orange County's A.G. Kawamura. The reported choice of environmental activist Terry Tamminen of Santa Monica to be secretary of the state Environmental Protection Agency is a brave one, especially since he reportedly was opposed by Schwarzenegger's powerful transition chief, Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas). From Dreier to Reiss is a commendable range.

Alas, the governor-elect stumbled on another major campaign promise: to drive special interests from Sacramento. When he announced his candidacy, Schwarzenegger said his administration would not play the special-interest game in which the money flowed in and the favors flowed out. But the Schwarzenegger administration is up to its neck in the special-interest game even before taking office. First, he took nearly $12 million in contributions, largely from special interests such as building developers. And now, he is planning a fund-raising affair in Sacramento Dec. 3, presumably to pay off his campaign debt of $4.5 million.

A "spectacular event" is promised by Alex Spanos, a Stockton developer and owner of the San Diego Chargers football team. Among those invited were the ultimate insiders, Sacramento's lobbyists. The maximum legal contribution of $21,200 buys two tickets to the dinner and a chance to have a photo taken with Schwarzenegger.

Spokesman Rob Stutzman insists that Schwarzenegger is free from special-interest influence. His tortured reasoning is that the only real special interests are those that negotiate directly with the governor, such as public employee labor unions. What that really means is "other people's friends are special interests, but mine are not."

It may be that Schwarzenegger can't be bought, but the perception around Sacramento will be that those who contribute generously have a better chance at access and favors than those who do not. This perception isn't helped by the state Chamber of Commerce's underwriting of his 2,000-person inaugural lunch Nov. 17.

If Schwarzenegger wants to convince people he is independent of special interests, he should cancel the fund-raising dinner and let his inaugural lunch attendees pay $40 to cover the catered chicken.

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