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Jewish World Review Dec. 5, 2005 / 4 Kislev 5766

John H. Fund

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Ahnold's ‘Harriet Miers Moment’: Has Gov. Schwarzenegger jumped the shark? | Arnold Schwarzenegger stunned California last week by selecting the former deputy chief of staff to Gray Davis, the Democratic governor ousted by the recall that brought Mr. Schwarzenegger to power, to be his own chief of staff.

Conservatives are furious that Susan Kennedy, a 45-year-old former acolyte of radical activists Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda, will be Gov. Schwarzenegger's top administrator, with power to hire and fire staff. Some liberals are angry at her joining a GOP governor; others are bemused. This Wednesday, 450 Gray Davis alumni will fill the state capitol for the unveiling of Mr. Davis's portrait. Ms. Kennedy will be reunited with David Zingale, another former top Davis aide, who is now chief of staff to First Lady Maria Shriver. Jason Kinney, a Davis speechwriter, quips that Mr. Schwarzenegger has decided to "finish the second term of Gray Davis." Mr. Davis, for his part, notes that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

Some are calling the Kennedy pick the governor's "Harriet Miers moment." An executive with low poll numbers, urged on by his wife, makes a bold appointment without proper vetting. That sets off a firestorm of unanticipated criticism. The executive insists he hasn't changed and asks his allies to trust him.

That trust isn't there for Arnold now. Several key talk-show hosts have broken with him. During a meeting of the state GOP executive committee last Friday, none of the 18 participants were supportive. Several GOP groups that do vital grunt work in campaigns are in open rebellion. The GOP leaders of both legislative houses have blasted the move. "Californians spoke loudly for real change in the recall," GOP Assembly Leader Kevin McCarthy told me. "This is a tragic move backwards."

After the governor's four reform initiatives were beaten by voters last month, conservatives knew he would move to the center. The appointment of a moderate Democrat such as former state controller Kathleen Connell or Tom McEnery, a former San Jose mayor, would have been accepted.

Ms. Kennedy is different. Republicans remember her as a hardball operative who was the Karl Rove of the California Democratic Party when she was its executive director in the early 1990s. Darius Anderson, one of her best friends, told the San Francisco Chronicle in admiration that she "was unbelievably ruthless in having to succeed and could not take failure for an answer."

One of the victims of that ruthlessness was Bruce Herschensohn, who in 1992 was the GOP candidate for U.S. senator against Barbara Boxer. Four days before the election, the Field Poll showed Mr. Herschensohn only one point behind. But that day Bob Mulholland, Ms. Kennedy's political director, confronted Mr. Herschensohn by parading down the aisle at a campaign appearance holding a giant poster of a strip club and shouting, "Should the voters of California elect someone who frequently travels the strip joints of Hollywood?" Reporters seized on the story. Mr. Herschensohn admitted he and his girlfriend had gone to a strip club once with another couple. Enough social conservatives stayed home to give Ms. Boxer a five-point victory.

Mr. Mulholland insisted he had acted alone, and other Democrats, including Ms. Boxer, denounced him. He was suspended by party chairman Phil Angelides only to be reinstated two weeks later, after the election. Ms. Kennedy, his boss, explained Mr. Mulholland's return by saying, "Bob broke an organizational rule but he did not tell any lies. Had he not told the truth he would have been gone." Los Angeles Times columnist Peter King called the attack "one of the most effective dirty tricks in modern California politics" and said that "the Democratic version of the affair is hard to swallow." Ms. Kennedy told me she remembers it being a "tough, hardball campaign" and she has no apologies to make. Mr. Angelides, now a candidate for governor, later said the strip-club attack was "a legitimate issue." This year, he has again hired Mr. Mulholland for his gubernatorial campaign  — against Mr. Schwarzenegger.

Ms. Kennedy recognizes the anger GOP activists feel, and told me she may recuse herself from meetings where Republican organizational and spending secrets are discussed. She would have supported all of the governor's vetoes, including that of same-sex marriage ("politically suicidal for gays"). But she rejects the view that her arrival is a betrayal of the "cleaning house" themes Arnold used to kick Mr. Davis out.

The Davis administration was notorious for its "pay to play" prostitution of itself to both business and union interests, depending on whose campaign donation was larger. Former governor Pete Wilson, a close Schwarzenegger friend, told National Review's Rich Lowry in 2003 that Governor Davis was "corrupt." Yet while Mr. Wilson now has kind words for Ms. Kennedy, Dan Walters, a columnist for the Sacramento Bee, says she "was Davis's enforcer to ensure state agencies implemented the deals the governor's office cut with campaign contributors."

Bill Bradley, a columnist who knows Ms. Kennedy from their days working with Tom Hayden, quotes a Sacramento insider who remembers the same thing. Mr. Bradley says Ms. Kennedy has evolved into a "corporate Democrat" who under Mr. Davis "pushed the scandalous Oracle deal." In 2001, Oracle Corp. won a $95 million no-bid contract that bought more computer software licenses than the state has employees. Every civil servant in the chain of command opposed it. Five days after the contract was signed, Davis technology adviser Arun Baheti accepted a $25,000 campaign check from Oracle in a Sacramento bar. He and two other Davis aides were forced to resign. Ms. Kennedy signed the action request for the deal but says she spent only eight minutes on the issue.

The next year, California Teachers Association president Wayne Johnson said he was taken aback when Gov. Davis requested a $1 million campaign donation during a policy meeting in his office. "Out of the blue, he said, 'I need $1 million from you guys,'" Mr. Johnson told reporters. He said Ms. Kennedy was present but said nothing. She told me her firm rule is to never discuss private meetings she attended with the governor. In 2003, only months before the recall, Gov. Davis appointed her to the powerful Public Utilities Commission.

It was her three-year deregulatory record at the PUC which attracted Gov. Schwarzenegger's attention. "She is right in line with all the things that I believe in," he says. Large telecom companies sing her praises and note she closes speeches with a regulatory "prayer": "G-d, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot fix through regulation; the Courage to step in when I need to; and the Wisdom to know who's paying for it."

Liberal groups have attacked her PUC votes, but agree they tell little about her views on the minimum wage or workers' comp reforms  — areas where the liberal Legislature is already demanding concessions from Arnold. GOP state Sen. Tom McClintock told me "a record regulating government-sanctioned monopolies could be evidence of being pro-big-business rather than free market." Ms. Kennedy responds that she has come to see the power of incentives and markets to promote the social good. Less credibly, she claims that she worked for Tom Hayden because of his ability to inspire people and that "I hadn't really formed any economic views in my 20s." Mr. Bradley, a colleague from their days working with Mr. Hayden, recalls her being both a strong feminist and "quite liberal on economics." Indeed, in 2001 when the San Francisco Chronicle asked Ms. Kennedy about her days working for Mr. Hayden, she said, "It was very much: Where does the revolution go? Pure retail politics."

Business lobbyists view Ms. Kennedy as a pragmatist they can work with, but GOP legislators view her as a symbolic repudiation of Arnold's political base. "It seems implausible that he could not find a Republican staff chief who could make the trains run on time," says GOP pollster Arnie Steinberg. "Will he now sell out on major policies?"

"This appointment has upset all wings of the GOP," says Roman Buhler, a former top aide to Rep. Bill Thomas, a moderate Republican. He worries the governor will now endorse a fig-leaf Democratic redistricting reform that would perpetuate incumbent-protection maps. Already the governor is planning a $20 billion "Big Bang" bond measure for infrastructure needs. State spending is up 11% this year, and next year it is on track to catch up with the overall spending growth of the Gray Davis years.

A Hollywood term the governor is familiar with could inform him about the potential impact of the Kennedy appointment. "Jumping the shark" refers to the precise moment when a TV show or public figure starts to go irreversibly downhill and loses all credibility. President Bush realized the damage the Harriet Miers debacle was causing him and pulled back. It's unlikely an alpha male like Arnold Schwarzenegger would do that. But then they said the same thing about George W. Bush.

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JWR contributor John H. Fund is author, most recently, of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)

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©2001, John H. Fund