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Results Unsettle Gov.'s Supporters

As rumors of turmoil fly, sources say they expect some top advisors to leave. Democrats and labor are weighing how to proceed.

November 10, 2005|Peter Nicholas and Jordan Rau | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — On a day of fierce recriminations, Republican allies and friends of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared shaken Wednesday by the collapse of his agenda in this week's special election, saying he needs to recapture the confidence of voters by jettisoning some of his political advisors.

Among those distressed by the direction of the governor's administration is First Lady Maria Shriver, who is interviewing potential candidates for senior staff jobs in the governor's office, according to people familiar with the matter.

As rumors swirled, names surfaced of people who might be asked to join Schwarzenegger in high-level jobs. They included Democrats; one was Susan Kennedy, a California Public Utilities Commission member who had been a top aide to former Gov. Gray Davis. She declined to comment.

The suggestions of turmoil ahead came as Schwarzenegger's opponents, savoring their victory, appeared ambivalent about the best way to approach the weakened governor.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 13, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Special election -- An article in Thursday's Section A about the special election said the law firm Nielsen, Merksamer, which helped vet some of the initiatives on Tuesday's ballot, was paid nearly $1.1 million by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign. The fees paid to the firm also covered litigation work.

Schwarzenegger stumbled badly in his attempt to make 2005 his "year of reform" when all four measures he championed were defeated Tuesday.

Voters rejected his bids to acquire new powers to restrain state spending and change school funding guarantees, to bar labor unions from spending political cash without the approval of members, to strip lawmakers of the power to draw their own district lines and to make it tougher for teachers to obtain tenure.

The four other statewide initiatives on the special election ballot were also defeated.

Schwarzenegger conferred privately with close associates the day after his debacle, plotting his next steps with Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas). Dreier said the two did not talk explicitly about a housecleaning. But he added: "Obviously, when you're looking ahead and moving ahead, things can happen. But I don't think there's a final decision made on any changes."

Within Schwarzenegger's wide circle, bitterness over the defeat was palpable. One business advocate said that, over the last two days, donors and other Schwarzenegger supporters have discussed recapturing the popularity the governor once enjoyed. "He's got all this talent and cachet, but he ... has to make some changes to be effective," the person said.

People close to the administration said they anticipated the departure of some top aides and members of the governor's expensive team of outside political consultants after his State of the State speech in January.

An aide to Shriver, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "It's premature to say at this point in time what the next step might be for" senior members of the governor's staff. "You just have to stay tuned." Of Shriver's influence on such moves, the aide said: "It's naive to think that Maria doesn't talk to Arnold in the privacy of their home."

Shriver recently hired a veteran of the Davis era as her chief of staff: Daniel Zingale.

Schwarzenegger made no public comments Wednesday. But his communications director, Rob Stutzman, said the governor interpreted his defeat not so much as a rejection of the ideas he advanced as voter distaste for his bypassing of the Legislature to push an agenda by ballot.

"We tried to take a huge leap forward in reforming this state by putting these measures before the voters in a special election," Stutzman said. "And now we'll pursue with redoubled effort the more conventional way of doing that, which is here in the Capitol, and that will be at a slower pace than he would like. So that's the lesson he has learned, but I don't think he characterizes it as a mistake."

Though gleeful after their rout of Schwarzenegger, labor leaders and Democrats had not settled Wednesday on a united stance toward the governor as his reelection campaign nears.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) said lawmakers should focus on reaching accommodations with the governor. But Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and many union leaders suggested that Schwarzenegger apologize for calling the election, which Nunez characterized as a waste of time and resources.

Stutzman said the governor would make no apology.

The public employee unions that helped defeat the governor's initiatives also appeared split on how adversarial they should be. Some union leaders said they wanted Schwarzenegger to try to win their trust back and build better relationships with them -- even as others seemed ready to work against him in next year's election.

"We've lost trust in him," Lou Paulson, president of the California Professional Firefighters, said at a news conference. "We're very receptive to get together with him, but clearly he has to make a sincere and thoughtful move."

Others said Schwarzenegger had to change his entire approach. "He lost last night, and he lost big," said Gale Kaufman, one of the union's consultants. "He has to figure out how to govern this state. The Legislature knows what its job is. He has to figure out what his job is."

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