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Schwarzenegger's Star Power Glows at the Capitol

The governor-elect is cheered by enthusiastic fans as he arrives in Sacramento. 'We're counting on you!' an elderly woman yells.

October 23, 2003|Jenifer Warren and Shawn Hubler | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — They stood for as long as two hours beneath a warm October sun, waiting for a glimpse of the man many believe will save California. At 1:30 Wednesday, their patience was rewarded as Arnold Schwarzenegger rolled up to the Capitol's broad west steps and jumped out of a Chevrolet Suburban, the star of a political debut unlike any before it.

Schoolchildren squealed, cameras clicked and grown men pressed forward against barricades in hopes of clasping the new governor's outstretched hand. As a well-tanned Schwarzenegger thanked the throng and flashed his glossiest Hollywood smile, an elderly woman yelled out a message that summed up the mood:

"We're counting on you, Arnold! We're counting on you!"

Day One of Schwarzenegger's get-acquainted tour of Sacramento made one thing clear: He will be no ordinary governor.

Before his private jet had landed at Sacramento International Airport, a local TV news chopper was tracking its descent -- and then following his motorcade to the Schwarzenegger transition office in a downtown high-rise.

Behind the office, reporters and cameramen hovered hopefully in an alley, eager to witness his arrival and ask a question or two. But the governor-elect slipped in unnoticed and spent the morning greeting staff, sipping decaf espresso and settling into a corner office.

A few blocks away, a fleet of TV news trucks clogged the streets surrounding the white-domed Capitol.

"It's all Arnold all the time around here," California Highway Patrol spokesman Tom Marshall quipped as he issued press credentials and fielded a steady stream of inquiries about the Golden State's celebrity guv.

"Everybody wants a look at him," Tony Beard Jr., the state Senate's chief sergeant for 22 years, added during a break between security briefings. "Remember, he is a movie star."

Reporters began their day by digging for updates on Schwarzenegger's maiden visit to the statehouse. No detail, it seemed, was too small for the army of journalists charged with trailing the man soon to take over as California's leader.

Who would he see, and when? Where would he lunch and what would he eat? (In his office, salmon.) Was he staying the night? (Yes, at a downtown hotel.) Returning to Los Angeles Thursday? (Yes, in time for a child's sports event.) Was he coached for his meetings, especially the session with the mercurial Senate leader John Burton? (Not really, though he was prepped by aides on issues most likely to come up.)

Why the extraordinary level of interest?

"People want to know all about this guy," said Kevin Riggs, the veteran KCRA-TV Channel 3 reporter who had requested that his Sacramento station send its chopper to track Schwarzenegger's plane.

Typically, Riggs added after filming a live shot in front of the Capitol, "you only have passing interest in the arrival of a new governor. But the curiosity about Schwarzenegger takes it to a completely different level."

So it seemed by 10 a.m. Wednesday, when people began queuing up near the steps where the governor-elect was to make his first public appearance of the day. Some had come just for the event; others were drawn in to see what all the fuss was about.

The hoopla was pleasantly fortuitous for a class of second-graders from Folsom, on a field trip to learn about state government. After peering at portraits of former governors and viewing the Assembly and Senate chambers, the children ate lunch on the grass and waited eagerly for Schwarzenegger to arrive.

"This is a great surprise," said Lisa Thompson, accompanying her daughter, Brooke, on the trip. "Their teacher taught them about the recall; my daughter came home one day and said, 'The governor is kicked out and Arnold is coming in.' Now they get to see him for real."

Newlyweds Laura and Adam Livingston of Temple City were happily surprised as well. On their honeymoon and headed for Lake Tahoe, the Livingstons stopped in Sacramento for a few days and took the noon tour of the Capitol.

"We were just finishing the tour when we heard Arnold was arriving," Laura Livingston said as she kept her camera trained on the door Schwarzenegger was expected to enter. "I've got a zoom on this, so I'm hoping to get a good shot."

Though the Livingstons didn't make it to the polls on election day, they have high hopes for Schwarzenegger. "I don't think he'll be as money-hungry as most of these politicians," Laura Livingston said. "And hey, Ronald Reagan was an actor too, and he worked out great."

Though Schwarzenegger's handlers had scheduled his ascent of the Capitol steps for 12:30 p.m., it was another hour before he arrived. In that way, at least, he resembled the outgoing Gov. Gray Davis, who was notorious for running late.

As they waited, Capitol security guards put on their coats and straightened their attire. Two guards swung open the 15-foot-high walnut doors that frame the building's western entrance and stood at attention on either side.

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