Administration officials cite other high-ranking Democrats who have worked with Schwarzenegger for years. Kennedy has said that she and the Republican governor agree on almost everything -- she voted for all four of his initiatives on the Nov. 8 special election ballot, something even some stalwart Republicans didn't do. All of the measures were soundly defeated.
Thompson said Kennedy's appointment represents the governor's desire to take skilled people from both parties and it "reflects his magnetism, not the other way around."
She said: "This is the Schwarzenegger administration, and he is going to remain true to leading from the center and bringing people together."
Assemblyman Ray Haynes (R-Riverside) said Kennedy represents "the canary in the coal mine" -- the last chance conservatives like himself are giving Schwarzenegger.
"I spent a lot of time trying to explain what the governor has said and defended it. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and told people he was going to do the right thing," Haynes said. "I am not going to do that anymore."
Conservatives have specific complaints about Kennedy. For one, she was executive director of the Democratic Party in 1992 when an operative, Bob Mulholland, publicly accused Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Herschensohn of visiting a Sunset Boulevard strip club. Herschensohn had been running as the traditional-values candidate.
Amid the controversy, Herschensohn lost the Senate race to Democrat Barbara Boxer, and the GOP was outraged at what it called a "smear campaign." Kennedy suspended Mulholland, but he soon returned to the party.
Costa Mesa attorney Michael Houston, a state Republican Party Central Committee member, said the anger at Kennedy's appointment "is not just from the activists. It's across the spectrum."
"The worry is that if a Democrat chief of staff has someone sitting on the Republican executive committee representing her, that could lead to a stealing or theft of strategy that could be detrimental to the Republican Party," Houston said.
Other Republicans said they might stop working for Schwarzenegger's campaign.
"By selecting somebody who has been such a warrior against the values our members have, those people will say, 'Forget it, I am never going down to the headquarters again.' The true believers will focus on county supervisors and school board races," said Michael Der Manouel, Jr., president of the Lincoln Club of Fresno County and a GOP activist.
Jon Fleischman, a Republican activist who operates a website for conservative commentary, www.flashreport.org, has fielded more than 1,000 e-mails and dozens of articles from outraged Republicans. He said he "has not seen this kind of strong reaction on an issue since I have been doing the report, and that is 2001."
"It used to be when Arnold would do stuff that would rankle conservatives, the county chairmen would say, 'I am having trouble with my people,' " Fleischman said. "Now the county chairmen are calling up and saying, "Your problem is not with the people, the problem is with me.' The people who are much more savvy politically have just had it."
Times staff writer Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.