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In the Capitol, a Red Carpet for Gov.'s Pals

June 20, 2004|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — He left the movies for politics, but Arnold Schwarzenegger has hardly abandoned his Hollywood roots, giving celebrity friends and prime-time actors what, at times, seems an all-access pass to his Sacramento world.

Producers, actors and stunt performers in certain cases are getting gubernatorial courtesies and a level of entree to his administration not even some lawmakers get.

Not all of this began with Schwarzenegger, who even now has a cameo role in "Around the World in 80 Days," which opened last week in theaters nationwide. Movie money, glamour and politics proved an irresistible mix long before Richard Nixon posed with Elvis and former Gov. Jerry Brown dated Linda Ronstadt.

But during Schwarzenegger's brief time in office, film and television stars have shown up at top-level briefings and Cabinet sessions, given speeches for the administration, helped woo legislative leaders and shared private lunches with the governor.

Actor Danny DeVito dined at Schwarzenegger's Brentwood home with the Assembly's new speaker, Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles). Born to a working-class immigrant family, Nunez has said he was impressed.

DeVito said that if his presence helped the governor build relationships in Sacramento, "I'm ready to have another dinner."

The governor appointed one of his former Hollywood business agents to the Coastal Commission. Actor Rob Lowe, a friend of Schwarzenegger who starred in the NBC presidential drama "The West Wing," says he has recommended a candidate for the panel and offered to review other prospective nominees.

Andrew Vajna, producer of "Terminator 3," has shown up at a Cabinet meeting. Lowe and Billy Lucas, the governor's longtime stunt double, have been escorted through the Capitol by Schwarzenegger aides.

Actor Tom Arnold, who had a role in the Schwarzenegger film "True Lies," was "stand-in" speaker for the governor at the California Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting when Schwarzenegger was on his way back from Israel recently. As it turned out, both of them spoke.

Arnold is making an independent movie called "The Kid and I" about a boy with cerebral palsy who is obsessed with Schwarzenegger and whose dream is to be a movie action hero and meet his idol. Arnold is trying to coax the governor into making a cameo appearance either in Sacramento or Los Angeles over the summer.

The attention paid to Hollywood friends and colleagues worries some critics, who say it is unfair for a governor known for making deals in private to open the doors to an elite few.

But aides to Schwarzenegger said he was simply showing loyalty to people whose judgment and friendship he prized.

"The governor's friends will come to Sacramento and see what he is doing, by virtue of being his friends," said spokeswoman Margita Thompson. That, she said, is "similar to other elected officials who might have their friends. It just so happens that their friends are less well known."

Rob Reiner, the politically active film director who has been mentioned as a possible Democratic opponent for Schwarzenegger in 2006, found it unsurprising that the governor would keep in touch with old friends.

"It's just a comfort level he has. You want to stay in touch with friends. You want them to be a part of your life," he said. "And now that he's up in Sacramento a good portion of the time, he wants to keep his contacts with his friends."

Hollywood finds its way to Sacramento for many reasons: sometimes friendship, sometimes issues. Jenna Elfman, co-star of the TV sitcom "Dharma and Greg," met with Schwarzenegger's deputy chief of staff, Cassandra Pye, in February to talk about Scientology and "drop off fliers," according to Thompson.

Elfman, in a statement, said she wanted to alert the governor to alternatives for rehabilitating prison inmates. She wrote that she "introduced" Pye to a "nonreligious" program called Criminon, based on the works of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Elfman's publicist said the actress had not met Schwarzenegger.

The governor's affection for Hollywood emerges in myriad gestures. When it came time to appoint members to the state Film Commission -- a group that includes DeVito and Clint Eastwood -- Schwarzenegger underscored his own enthusiasm for the panel's work by personally announcing the selections at a news conference. That's more than he did when appointing some members of his own senior staff and Cabinet.

Does he miss his old job? No need; it's still with him.

"What's great is we can do both," Schwarzenegger said at a recent public appearance. "We have the red-carpet treatment and also we are doing all the politics and the state, getting it back in shape."

Though he receives an average of 500 invitations a month from student groups, businesses, community organizations and others, Schwarzenegger made a point of attending a stunt awards ceremony in Los Angeles recently, honoring men and women who, he said, "make us all shine."

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