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No-Frills Transfer of Power Is Planned

Schwarzenegger will be sworn in next month amid the state's fiscal woes and the governor's ouster.

October 16, 2003|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

Don't expect black-tie balls and ritzy inaugural galas when Arnold Schwarzenegger officially becomes governor next month. Aides are arranging a no-frills transfer of power that will keep celebrations muted, believing that there is little public appetite for parties after a recall election that drove a sitting governor from office.

Bent on avoiding post-election pomp, aides said they are banning mention of the word "inauguration" in favor of the more businesslike "swearing-in," in planning Schwarzenegger's elevation.

The spartan tone might seem out of character for a movie star who owns a Gulfstream G4, drives a gargantuan Hummer sport utility vehicle and favors fat cigars. Certainly Schwarzenegger's successful campaign lacked for neither money nor glamour. He crisscrossed the state in private jets and custom-built buses, while appearing at events with a raft of Hollywood celebrities, including Rob Lowe and Dennis Miller.

But aides said the governor-elect is intent on avoiding a conspicuous show of glitz at a time when the state faces financial woes.

One member of Schwarzenegger's transition, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that an Oscar-style party with Schwarzenegger's celebrity friends "would send too many wrong signals. There doesn't seem to be an interest in making it a big party.... If there were parties, they would be private and small."

Avoiding an expensive inauguration also sidesteps the politically sensitive question of how to pay for it, the aide said. Many incoming governors rely on corporate donors and others with interests before the state to defray costs -- raising questions about what they might get in return.

A Schwarzenegger advisor, state Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte, said there is simply no time for celebrations. Schwarzenegger will not take office until mid-November -- the exact date depends on when the secretary of state's office certifies the Oct. 7 election results. Schwarzenegger is obligated to send a budget to the printer the following month. Meanwhile, he must appoint a chief of staff and a finance director, fill hundreds of other positions in his administration and meet the myriad obligations that come with running the largest state. Today, for instance, Schwarzenegger is due to talk privately with the visiting President Bush in Riverside.

"This is not party time," Brulte said in an interview. "This is not business as usual. We have an awful lot of work to do."

Though the details of Schwarzenegger's swearing-in are still taking shape, aides are considering some vehicle for "citizen participation."

"We'll strike a balance between honoring the people's right to participate in and celebrate the event, yet at the same time [heeding] that these are extraordinary circumstances that do not call for the celebratory atmosphere you'd normally see in a transition," said one transition member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Downsizing the inauguration makes sense, some analysts and elected officials said. It avoids the appearance that Schwarzenegger is taking a tasteless victory lap around his defeated rival, Gov. Gray Davis. And with the economy slumping, an ostentatious party could stoke resentment.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown, now the mayor of Oakland, said that when he took office in 1975, the inaugural ball consisted of a dinner at a Chinese restaurant in downtown Los Angeles.

Brown, a Democrat, said that "some austerity is appropriate" in this instance, given the "serious budget crisis facing the state."

Beyond that, "This is not like a normal quadrennial election," Brown said. "This is an interruption in the flow of the status quo. So a different ceremony is required. I have confidence the governor-elect will be able to devise it."

Walt Stone, chairman of the political science department at UC Davis, said that minimizing the parties amounts to "a pretty smart political move."

"It doesn't rub the recall thing in the faces of the Democrats he's got to deal with, who are in a majority in both the Assembly and the Senate," Stone said. "It also conveys a 'Roll up the sleeves, let's get to it, we're short on time here, we have a budget due in a few months' approach. It says, 'We mean business,' "

When Davis took office in 1999, a weekend worth of inaugural events included two balls -- one a black-tie affair, the other a "rock 'n' roll ball."

For traditionalists, a little pomp can be welcome.

Brown remembers that his father, Pat, himself a former governor, sat uncomfortably through the Chinese dinner that night in 1975.

"My father was very upset that we didn't have an inaugural ball," Brown said. "He didn't want to be sitting there eating Chinese food. He wanted more ceremony. But I didn't think that was the mood. That was post-Watergate."

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