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Gov.'s Allies Upset at Enemy Within

Republicans say too many people outside the party are being appointed to offices.

April 14, 2006|Robert Salladay | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Few people have worked harder than Joe Nunez to sabotage Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's political fortunes. A high-ranking teachers union official, he helped engineer the governor's embarrassing defeat in the special election last year.

So to Republicans, it was nothing short of infuriating and confounding that Schwarzenegger would appoint Nunez to the state Board of Education. He handed a Democrat and avowed enemy one of the most prestigious patronage jobs in government.

On his application to the governor's office, Nunez was asked if he had done anything that might embarrass the administration, a standard question on such forms. He wrote: chairman, Alliance for a Better California, the union-funded group that led the fight against Schwarzenegger last year.

Yet the appointment was not just another example of Schwarzenegger's keeping his friends close and his enemies closer. After more than two years in office, Schwarzenegger has flummoxed the political establishment -- particularly Republicans -- by making dozens of appointments from outside his own party.

Among all Schwarzenegger appointees to state government jobs, regulatory boards and commissions -- more than 2,000 in all -- about 54% have been Republicans. The rest are Democrats and independents, with a handful from minor political parties.

The reappointment of Nunez, who first joined the board under Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, was so startling that former Senate leader John Burton, who knows the governor well, refused to believe it when first told. Jon Fleischman, a Republican activist who runs a politics website, said dismissively: "My kindergarten teacher would be a better appointee to the state Board of Education than Joe Nunez

The appointment is another example, Fleischman said, of Schwarzenegger's turning away from the GOP, which could dampen the enthusiasm of party activists during the November election. With Democrats fired up about unseating Schwarzenegger, he said, "a vibrant Republican turnout is essential to the governor getting elected."

Although much of his campaign staff and inner circle are Republican, Democrats and independents fill the highest ranks of government as well. They include some of the most influential: Schwarzenegger's chief of staff Susan Kennedy and close advisor Bonnie Reiss. A majority of his appointees to the Air Resources Board, considered one of the most powerful anti-pollution boards in the country, are Democrats, for example.

On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger announced the appointment of Debra Farar, a Democrat and appointee of Davis, to the Cal State University Board of Trustees. Farar was an education advisor to Davis when he was lieutenant governor.

For months, the ire of Republican activists has focused on Schwarzenegger's judicial appointments.

Nearly 50% of the governor's picks for the bench have been Democrats or independents. Past governors have drawn far more heavily from their own parties to fill the bench and the hundreds of other jobs throughout the bureaucracies.

Steve Frank, another GOP activist, said Schwarzenegger has given several speeches highlighting his proud membership in the Republican Party, including the keynote address at the 2004 National Convention, and "we would expect him to put into action the values he spoke about."

Frank singled out Teresa A. Bennett, a Democrat the governor appointed in January to the San Bernardino County Superior Court bench. A former public defender, she represented clients facing the death penalty, including a man convicted of raping and killing a 9-year-old girl. She first applied to be a judge under Davis, a Democrat, but he passed.

Schwarzenegger ran for election in 2003 on an agenda that was not considered entirely Republican. But Frank said voters expect a Republican governor to appoint judges "who are strong on public safety, that protect the victim rather than the perpetrator and interpret the law without any creativity, without any agenda."

In an interview, Bennett said she tries to be nonpolitical. When it comes to death penalty cases, she said, she would "follow the law, whatever the law is in those cases." She described her defense work in death penalty cases as part of the adversarial relationship that is required of the job.

Bennett said she was somewhat taken aback by the appointment this year, "not so much by Gov. Schwarzenegger, since he does a lot of things that don't seem to be typical. But I was surprised to get the call, because it didn't happen under the Davis administration."

At a recent press briefing, Schwarzenegger said he doesn't think about a person's party affiliation when making appointments. In Nunez's case, he said, political differences "are not why I appoint people to the board. I want to hear a variety of different opinions on how to solve our education problems."

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