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ELECTION 2006: THE GOVERNOR

Governor in Mexico for trade talks

A day after his victory, Schwarzenegger leads a delegation on two days of discussions touting agriculture and tourism.

November 09, 2006|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — Fresh off his reelection victory, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived here Wednesday night for a two-day trade mission to Mexico, where he will act as a celebrity pitchman for California produce and tourism, and strive to forge ties with the nation's incoming president.

Schwarzenegger was accompanied by his wife, Maria Shriver, and a 63-person business delegation that includes campaign donors and representatives from energy companies, business groups and utilities.

Though border issues often dominate the political debate in California, Schwarzenegger is not making illegal immigration the focus of the trip, emphasizing instead the prospect of expanding foreign markets. Mexico is the state's largest export market, having received $17.7 billion in California exports last year.

"I said three years ago we need to sell California worldwide -- not just sell our products in the U.S.," the governor told reporters recently.

Upon his arrival at the presidential terminal late Wednesday, Schwarzenegger was greeted by a 15-year-old bull-fighting prodigy named Mario Aguilar, who presented him with a signed cape spattered with dried blood from past fights.

Schwarzenegger smiled and accepted the cape, then walked arm in arm with Shriver to speak to the waiting press corps.

"We are really looking forward to the next two days being here, doing business and hopefully increasing our trade with Mexico," the governor said.

Schwarzenegger is to meet with Mexican President Vicente Fox for breakfast today and with President-elect Felipe Calderon on Friday.

The governor's relationship with Mexico is a complex one. Despite Mexico's status as a trading partner, Schwarzenegger waited three years before visiting the capital city. In the interim, he made trips to Tokyo, Beijing, Jerusalem, and Amman, Jordan.

Back home, Schwarzenegger angered Latinos by refusing to sign a bill that would award driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.

He also sparked resentment when he said last year that the Minuteman volunteers watching the southern border were doing a "terrific" job, and when he suggested during his reelection campaign that Asian Americans have assimilated more smoothly into U.S. culture than Mexican immigrants.

In Mexico, the only buzz generated about Schwarzenegger's trip came from TV host Adal Ramones, whose late-night program, "Otro Rollo," is similar to "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

Ramones told the Reforma newspaper Wednesday that he turned down an invitation to receive the governor at the airport partly because of rehearsals for a play but also because "I can't receive someone who has treated us so badly."

In the U.S., Schwarzenegger's political aides fought hard during the just-completed campaign to make inroads with Latino voters. One of Schwarzenegger's political advisors, Matthew Dowd, is a strong advocate of the notion that Republicans must broaden their appeal to this growing segment of the electorate.

Among the official meetings with Mexican political leaders are a visit today to a supermarket to promote California fruit and vegetables, and a round-table meeting Friday with business leaders in the city of Monterrey, a major business center.

"We want to go to Mexico and let them know that they are our good friends and good trading partners," Schwarzenegger said.

Shriver is keeping a schedule as busy as her husband's. Her duties include visiting a shelter for children and presiding over a breakfast for Mexico's "remarkable women."

The trip will be financed through a combination of taxpayer funds and private donations from business.

One funding source is the tax-exempt California Protocol Foundation. The group's board includes Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, the state's leading business lobbying group.

Zaremberg, who is part of the business delegation traveling with the governor, said the foundation would not reveal the names of its donors. Nonprofit groups are not legally required to make such disclosures.

"It's another way to get around disclosure laws," said Rachel Weiss, communications director for the Institute on Money in State Politics, based in Helena, Mont. "If you're going to give a campaign contribution to the Schwarzenegger campaign, his committees are required to disclose the information. But if you decide to help fund a trip, that sort of information that could help people be aware of what goes on behind the scenes is not available to them."

Campaign contributors traveling with the governor include officials with Bank of America, Walt Disney Co. and the drug company Pfizer.

In 2004, Pfizer gave $100,000 to one of Schwarzenegger's campaign fundraising accounts. Bank of America has donated more than $140,000 to Schwarzenegger and the California Republican Party since 2003. Disney has contributed more than $147,000 to the state GOP and the governor's campaign accounts in the same period.

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