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Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to oust transportation commission appointee

The governor withdrew his reappointment after the businessman objected to the administration's plan for a public-private partnership for freeway construction. But state senators saved his post.

September 02, 2009|Patrick McGreevy and Evan Halper

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week tried to yank one of his appointees from a state board after the man balked at an administration-backed proposal he considered too risky for taxpayers. But lawmakers, in an end run, kept the San Francisco businessman on the panel.

The appointee to the California Transportation Commission, James Ghielmetti, objected to an administration plan to accelerate the expansion of private companies' role in freeway construction. He advocated giving regulators more time to assess the potential effects of such a move.

Schwarzenegger, who has aggressively pushed public-private partnerships, then withdrew Ghielmetti's reappointment to the commission.

But Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) agreed with Ghielmetti. Within hours, he and other senators voted Ghielmetti back onto the panel as their own appointee. In an interview, Ghielmetti said the governor's chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, was behind the withdrawal.

"She saw this as a chance to get rid of me," Ghielmetti said.

Ghielmetti said Kennedy accused him of conspiring with Democrats in the Legislature to change the administration's plan, something he denies.

Administration officials declined to discuss Ghielmetti's interactions with Kennedy. "The governor is looking for strong advocates for public-private partnerships to get jobs online as quickly as possible," said Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear.

He said the administration looks forward to appointing "individuals who share the governor's commitment to rebuilding the state's infrastructure and creating jobs."

The owner and chief executive officer of Signature Properties, a Northern California land development and home-building firm, Ghielmetti said the guidelines for public-private partnerships should include detailed provisions for every possibility, including terms for repayment of money from private firms in the event of default, lease terms and other protections.

He complained that Kennedy and Dale Bonner, secretary of the state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, pressured him to adopt a more "loosey-goosey" approach even though the commission is independent from the administration.

"I felt we were being told what the guidelines should be," he said. "It's inappropriate."

Ghielmetti is the latest Schwarzenegger appointee to be jettisoned after straying from the administration's agenda. Last year, the governor dropped his brother-in-law, Bobby Shriver, and fellow action hero Clint Eastwood from the state parks panel after their opposition helped derail plans for a toll road through San Onofre State Beach in San Diego County. Schwarzenegger supported the project.

In 2007, the chairman of the state Air Resources Board, Robert F. Sawyer, said he was fired by Schwarzenegger for pushing for anti-pollution measures beyond what the governor's office wanted. Also in 2007, R. Judd Hanna quit the Fish and Game Commission at the administration's request after Republican lawmakers urged his ouster because he had sought to ban lead bullets in condor territory.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

evan.halper@latimes.com

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