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Off The Cuff, Gov. Gets In Some Jabs

In newly obtained recordings, he calls Perata a `very sick man' and Nunez a passionless `political operator.'

February 05, 2007|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — He has staked his governorship on bipartisan agreements, but recordings of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger bantering with aides in closed-door meetings reveal him complaining about lawmakers from both parties, casting some as obstructionist and two-faced.

The recordings, newly obtained by The Times, also feature him chatting about American resentment of illegal immigrants, about his taste for gas-hungry Hummers and about his wife's habit of tinkering with his speeches.

Made by Schwarzenegger's staff last year, the recordings offer a rare window onto the governor's operation and a more complex portrait of Schwarzenegger than typically emerges in public, where his appearances are carefully stage-managed.

In the latest recordings, the Republican governor describes Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) as a "very sick man" and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) as "a political operator coming from the union background" who evinces no real "passion" about issues. And he worries that a federal plan to build a fence along the Mexican border will send a troubling message.

"Are we looking at Mexico now as the enemy?" he says in the recording. "No, it's not. This is our trading partner."

Married for two decades, Schwarzenegger still seems amused by some of his wife's habits. When Maria Shriver reviews one of his speeches, he says, "she is relentless. I can only talk about things for so many times because then I like to lock it in, even if it's not perfect.... But she goes until the last day.... I said, 'Maria, it's over. It's in the teleprompter.' "

The recordings were made in the first half of 2006. The Times first published about a 6-minute excerpt from similar recordings in September and recently obtained about 3 1/2 hours more. In the excerpts published in September, Schwarzenegger referred to Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia (R-Cathedral City) as "hot," a reference to her ethnicity. He later apologized.

After The Times on Sunday asked the Schwarzenegger administration for comment about the latest recordings, communications director Adam Mendelsohn said he was going to release the tapes to other news media. The Schwarzenegger administration had previously turned down public records requests for the tapes.

In a prepared statement, Mendelsohn said the recordings show the governor to be "thoughtful, concerned and focused on solving some of California's most serious problems."

Gary Delsohn, a speechwriter working for the governor, made the recordings in an effort to produce better speeches by capturing the governor's thoughts and speech patterns. Attendees at the four recorded meetings include Delsohn, Mendelsohn, Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy and former aide Bonnie Reiss.

Aides to former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides copied the audio files from the governor's website last year, something they were able to do because of lax security on the site, state investigators concluded.

Proud of his legislative achievements, Schwarzenegger plans to deliver speeches around the country this year, touting California as a model of bipartisan cooperation. But the recordings suggest that he and his most trusted aides have sometimes viewed his legislative partners with disdain.

Throughout the conversations, however, the tone is generally friendly, informal. Schwarzenegger sometimes sounds as if he has a cigar in his mouth.

In one exchange, Delsohn thanks the governor for cigars and schnapps.

Schwarzenegger's comments about Perata came early last year, amid negotiations over a proposed multibillion-dollar public works package. A deal ultimately came together, but Schwarzenegger aides at the time viewed Perata as a barrier.

In one recorded conversation, the governor says Perata "is trying to derail everything."

Delsohn asks: "In your past life, did you ever deal with people that could be so petty and so childish?"

"Yeah, in the movie business," the governor replies. "It's the same thing."

He adds: "It is a different level, but, I mean, yes, the movie business has been held up with a hundred-million-dollar movie just because someone doesn't like one scene."

At one point, Delsohn asks the governor how Perata acts in his presence after repeatedly "jamming" him in the press.

Schwarzenegger said: "Believe me when I tell you that it is shocking, and it took me a while to understand it because I am still naive a little bit about it. Because when he comes in here, he's nice. And I want to work with him. But those guys, as soon as they step out of here or before they come in here, they are absolutely different personalities. They change like this."

Schwarzenegger was even more caustic about Perata in a discussion at a separate meeting about negotiations on the public works bond. He says Perata is "a very sick man." An aide says, "Really?" Schwarzenegger replies: "Yeah, absolutely."

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