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Outsider's Team Full of GOP Insiders

In his run for governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger has hired consultants with close ties to Pete Wilson. But he insists he runs his own ship.

September 27, 2003|Tim Reiterman | Times Staff Writer

Since he declared as a Republican candidate for governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger has cast himself as a crusading outsider who wants to smash the influence of entrenched "special interests" in the state Capitol.

Yet he has surrounded himself with GOP insiders who have ties to businesses with a stake in government actions.

His key campaign strategist is Bob White, who formed a high-powered public affairs consulting firm in 1997 after serving as former Gov. Pete Wilson's right hand for three decades in the San Diego mayor's office, Congress and the governor's office.

Although White has taken a leave while working for Schwarzenegger, his firm does work for an organization of chief executives of major California corporations -- and it is closely allied with a lobbying firm for companies in oil, tobacco, liquor, energy and other industries.

Top aides for winning candidates often transfer to policy-shaping jobs in new administrations, or they enjoy access to the governor's office for themselves and the people they represent.

But Schwarzenegger maintains that any business interests connected to White and White's partners would have no special sway in his administration.

"Bob has never told me who his clients are, and I have no idea," Schwarzenegger said in a recent interview. "So I think he has no interest in that.

"I run my ship. I will do what is right for the state and the people, and not special interests."

In addition to White, the movie star's campaign apparatus is packed with people with close ties to the state's last Republican administration. Among them are former Wilson campaign strategist George Gorton, press secretary Sean Walsh, communications consultant Jeff Randle and policy researcher Paul Miner.

Schwarzenegger has been criticized by political opponents, some of them Republicans, for at least creating the appearance that his tenure would be a reprise of the Wilson years.

But Schwarzenegger said that, although White is a trusted friend and advisor, no one should assume that White, Wilson or anyone else is shaping his ideas. "Bob is a very knowledgeable man," he said. "It is true he is an insider. But I'm the outsider. He's not giving me his philosophy. I have my own philosophy. I have my own opinions."

In the Capitol consulting corps, White is viewed as a ubiquitous and well-liked sage who sells advice to blue chip firms and others on political and economic matters. He operates behind the scenes -- and across political lines.

"Bob White is one of the most talented political strategists ... in the state," said San Francisco mayor and former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, a lifelong Democrat and longtime friend of White's. "He has more relationships, more contacts, more wisdom than anyone on the Republican side of the aisle."

It was no surprise that Schwarzenegger turned to White for advice, first for his successful Proposition 49 after-school program initiative last year, and recently for the recall race.

Schwarzenegger had known and supported Wilson for years, heading his governor's council on physical fitness and even backing his controversial Proposition 187 immigration measure. And White's firm, California Strategies, as one lobbyist recently put it, was so filled with ex-aides that it seemed like the "Wilson administration in exile."

Among his partners are former Wilson Cabinet member Joanne Kozberg, now a UC regent, and former Wilson deputy Cabinet secretary Camden McEffee. Another is lobbyist-lawyer John C. Flanigan, an ex-Wilson mayoral aide.

Most of White's colleagues have strong Republican ties. For example, Gary Hunt, a former Irvine Co. executive, was state campaign vice chairman for President George W. Bush in 2000.

One partner, John "Rusty" Areias, is a conservative Democrat who was Davis' state parks director during the governor's first term and was part of the so-called Gang of Five state Assemblymen who tried to wrest the speakership from Brown in the 1980s.

White and his company are not registered as state lobbyists, so they are not required to disclose their client list. And White declined to discuss his business relationships.

However, according to records and interviews, the roster includes the California Business Roundtable, an organization of chief executives, and the Catellus Development Corp., a San Francisco-based real estate developer, as well as General Motors and AT&T Corp., which has donated more than $1 million to state political campaigns since mid-2002.

Reports filed by the companies this year show that they routinely hired lobbyists to work on issues being considered by state agencies. AT&T identified several matters before the California Public Utilities Commission, whose members are appointed by the governor. Catellus reported lobbying efforts at the state's transportation department, the high-speed rail authority, the Legislature and the governor's office. And GM lobbyists worked on the Air Resources Board's mandate for more zero-emission vehicles.

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