Transition continues in lead up to pivotal State of the State
|Speculation Swirls about a possible new Cabinet secretary; Maria's chief of staff emerges as Democratic power|
On the afternoon Susan Kennedy was named Gov. Schwarzenegger's next chief of staff, the governor huddled in a closed-door meeting with some of the senior officials in his administration.
There were seven seats at the table, as a bipartisan and unlikely cast of characters gathered to discuss the State of the State address, the January speech that will set the tone for the rest of Schwarzenegger's first term. With just four weeks before the most pivotal moment in his governorship, as his communications team puts the finishing touches on the launch of Schwarzenegger 2.0, the governor is listening to new voices in the inner sanctum of the Horseshoe.
Two of the most important officials in the first two years of the Schwarzenegger administration were missing from this particular meeting: Cabinet secretary Terry Tamminen and Richard Costigan, the governor's point man with the Legislature.
But among those present was Daniel Zingale, a Democrat who, like Kennedy, was a top aide to former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and who pushed for the Kennedy appointment. Though Zingale serves as chief of staff to Maria Shriver, the governor's Democratic wife, he is emerging as an important voice in the administration. His presence at policy meetings is an unprecedented role for an advisor to a California first lady.
The ascendance of Zingale and Kennedy, herself a former communications director for U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein and Democratic Party executive, has struck fear into the hearts of conservatives.
Joining that pair of one-time Davis confidants and Schwarzenegger at this meeting were two veterans of Gov. Pete Wilson's administration: outgoing Schwarzenegger chief of staff Pat Clarey and Sean Walsh, who heads up Schwarzenegger's internal political shop at the Office of Planning and Research. Communications director Rob Stutzman and press secretary Margita Thompson were also present.
Such a mishmash of ideological perspectives has become a hallmark of the Schwarzenegger administration. From the first week of the recall, when he surrounded himself with a bipartisan team of economic advisors to last week's selection of a Democratic chief of staff, Schwarzenegger has refused to, in his own words, "get stuck in a mold."
And with a critical period before him, in which the governor must address clemency for Tookie Williams, make an appointment to the Supreme Court and unveil a new budget plan, the staff uncertainty could not come at a more critical juncture.
Many Republicans feel the shakeup highlights the crux of the problem inside the Schwarzenegger administration--a staff without an ideological consensus, no clear internal hierarchy and a team of advisors who sometimes act as if they do not trust each other.
At the press conference introducing Kennedy, Schwarzenegger beamed that "we have always had really wonderful debates in my office."
But Horseshoe veterans say there is a downside to such debates.
Steve Maviglio, who served as press secretary to Davis, says that crafting the state of the state is a tense affair, even when all those present agree ideologically.
"I can't imagine what it's like when people are coming at a problem from different philosophical angles not style angles--when you are arguing about substance, not style," said Maviglio.
With advisers of different political stripes, people are bound to disagree. And, Maviglio says, "When people have disagreements it leads to breakdowns in morale, back stabbing and leaks to the press."
While Kennedy's boosters say her appointment may appear to add to the ideological chaos, she brings extensive managerial experience to the table. Democrats and Republicans alike agree that Kennedy can effectively and efficiently rule the bureaucracy. When she left the Davis administration, she had to be replaced by four full-time staffers. But skeptics argue that having a Republican administration with a Democratic chief of staff only adds to the tension and mistrust that Kennedy was brought in to remedy.
The state's Republican Party board of directors has demanded a meeting with the governor, fearing that Kennedy will have access to inside information about their statewide election efforts next year. The role of chief of staff, they say, is necessarily a political one--and a job they do not trust to a Democrat.
Pat Clarey, Kennedy's predecessor, was paid by Schwarzenegger as a campaign consultant while serving as chief of staff.
As one Republican consultant put it, "She might make the trains run on time, but will she be aware of some other train heading the governor's way, down the track?"
The greatest fear among conservatives, in and out the Capitol, is that Democrats within the administration are on the ascent. Administration officials have already hinted that next year they will roll out a $50 billion infrastructure bond, propose universal children's healthcare, impose stricter limits on greenhouse gases and embrace a hike in the minimum wage--all of which are anathema to conservatives.
But many had held their tongue--until the Kennedy appointment.
Since, there have been catcalls from the far right deriding Schwarzenegger as "Benedict Arnold," while Senate Republican leader Dick Ackerman called Kennedy the "wrong pick." The unease has even seeped into the highest ranks of Schwarzenegger's own administration.
"The staffers I have talked to in the governor's horseshoe have been Stepford wife-ish," said one Republican political consultant. "With teeth clenched and a phony smile, they assert that everything is fine."
One widely rumored move that may assuage conservatives, in and out of the administration, is the shift of Terry Tamminen from his post as Cabinet secretary, traditionally the number two staff job, to another senior advisory position. As cabinet secretary, Tamminen is the conduit for the various department heads to the governor. Tamminen, an unabashed environmentalist who previously headed California's Environmental Protection Agency, has long been a touchstone for conservative ire towards Schwarzenegger, particularly among business interests.
But the administration's conservative stalwarts are also on the move. Clarey officially departs on January 1. Communications director Stutzman is leaving the cozy confines of the horseshoe for the campaign trail early next year. And there were fears among Republicans that legislative secretary Richard Costigan, who many legislative staffers consider the lone remaining top-level "Republican's Republican," may leave as well, though he is privately telling people he plans to stay.
But the key question is if any of the staff shake-ups even matter, with a governor who has never fully embraced the Republican agenda. "Arnold will be Arnold," said several gubernatorial staffers, pointing to his fiscal conservative, socially moderate, and environmentally liberal record as a better guide to policy than the make-up of his staff.
The above first appeared in Capitol Weekly