Schwarzenegger’s Team Is Shuffled
Less than a week after entering the race for governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger has already shaken up his campaign team, demoting a top strategist and turning day-to-day operations over to aides who ran former Gov. Pete Wilson’s office.
The moves reflect both a scramble to assemble a campaign on the fly -- the actor surprised even some close advisors with his decision to run -- and increased assertiveness on the part of the candidate’s wife, television correspondent Maria Shriver, who has assumed a central strategy role, according to Republican operatives familiar with the campaign.
For the record:
12:00 AM, Aug. 16, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 16, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 72 words Type of Material: Correction
Proposition 187 -- Two recent articles in Section A that discussed Proposition 187 contained errors. An article on Wednesday referred to the proposition as “anti-immigration.” The proposition denied benefits to illegal immigrants, not immigrants generally. An article on Tuesday referred to some advertisements that supported the proposition as “incendiary,” a word that implies motive. The advertisements generated controversy, but the article did not support a conclusion that they were intended to inflame.
The moves also underscore Schwarzenegger’s ties to Wilson, a political mentor who remains a controversial figure in California, particularly among Latino voters. And the restructuring yokes Schwarzenegger more tightly to the Sacramento establishment -- a potential problem for a candidate who has portrayed himself as a political outsider.
As part of the shuffle, Bob White -- Wilson’s longtime staff chief, alter ego and one of Sacramento’s best-connected insiders -- has joined the campaign in the top job, bringing along Patricia Clarey, a deputy from Wilson’s gubernatorial days.
Another new addition to the team, Martin Wilson, was embroiled in the scandal that drove former state Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush from office.
A spokesman for the Schwarzenegger campaign downplayed the staff moves. “We are not wedded to titles and dotted lines” on organizational charts, said Sean Walsh. “We are dedicated to making sure that the right people are doing the right jobs at the right time.”
The personnel changes, which have not been publicly announced, follow a series of events that were carefully choreographed by Schwarzenegger’s staff but that left the candidate and his wife displeased with his political debut, said several people close to the campaign.
Shriver was particularly unhappy with a decision to book her husband on a series of national morning news shows last Friday after just a few hours’ sleep, they said. Shriver is on leave from NBC News for the duration of the recall election.
Schwarzenegger declined to answer substantive questions during his round robin of appearances, leaving an opening for opponents to assert that he was ill-prepared to discuss serious issues.
Despite that criticism -- from Democrats and Republicans alike -- Schwarzenegger has continued to avoid specifics. In his first week as a candidate, he granted just one interview to a California-based reporter, Pat O’Brien of “Access Hollywood,” who spoke to him at NBC’s Burbank studios just after Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy last Wednesday.
The following morning, O’Brien lavished praise on Schwarzenegger in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show.
As yet, the strategy seems to have done little to hurt Schwarzenegger’s political standing. He is widely perceived as the front-runner in the legion-size gubernatorial field, drawing crowds and cameras that no other candidate can match.
“Expecting Schwarzenegger to sit around and come up with a bunch of position papers is missing what the public wants from him,” said Tony Quinn, a campaign analyst in Sacramento. He said the actor’s greatest asset was his perceived independence from the political class. “What this recall is all about is an assault on the whole political order.”
Quinn suggested Schwarzenegger must avoid being labeled a “Wilson Republican,” or fixed with any other political tags.
That may be difficult, however, given the increasingly prominent role that Wilson and his former team are playing in the Schwarzenegger campaign.
The former governor, who is now co-chairman of Schwarzenegger’s campaign, was instrumental in coaxing the actor into the race and many of Wilson’s key advisors -- including his advertising consultant, his press secretary and, now, his former chief of staff -- are playing similar roles in Schwarzenegger’s effort.
As part of the current moves, at least one former Wilson advisor, George Gorton, who spent more than a year positioning Schwarzenegger to run for office, will have a more limited political role, according to people familiar with the shake-up.
Walsh, however, said interpreting it as a demotion for Gorton would be “patently not true.”
Beyond the current moves, other changes are in the works, according to campaign operatives. “There are tensions inside,” said one Republican strategist. “It’s not as cohesive as it was.”
Being closely tied to Wilson could present problems for Schwarzenegger. The former governor was always more respected than revered by California voters. A Los Angeles Times poll in October 1997, as he neared his final year in office, showed 48% with a favorable impression of Wilson and 42% with an unfavorable one.
Even now, he remains a polarizing figure in the Latino community, thanks to his support for Proposition 187, the anti-immigration initiative that passed in 1994. On Sunday, Wilson touted Schwarzenegger’s backing of the initiative, a disclosure that Democrats seized on.
“I’m going to make sure people are aware, Latinos are aware, of who the people are advising him,” said Art Torres, state Democratic Party chairman. “I don’t think Arnold is a bad person. I just disapprove of what he stands for and the company he keeps.”
Beyond the immigration issue, the close association with Wilson could enmesh Schwarzenegger in several other issues his campaign might have preferred to avoid.
Wilson -- as Gov. Gray Davis pointed out three times Tuesday at an event in Los Angeles -- signed the 1998 law that triggered the recent tripling of the state car tax. Moreover, as Democrats are also eager to point out, it was Wilson who signed the energy deregulation law that set the stage for California’s power crisis.
“It gives Democrats a visible target in the Schwarzenegger campaign,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a USC political analyst. “ ‘Pete Wilson did this. Pete Wilson did that.’ ”
The increasingly prominent role being played in the campaign by Sacramento insiders could also become an issue.
White, whose history with Wilson goes back more than 35 years, is managing partner of California Strategies, a prominent Sacramento consulting firm.
Clarey, who was deputy chief of staff to Wilson at the governor’s office, is a former oil industry lobbyist who also served in the Reagan and first Bush administrations.
Another former Wilson aide who has joined the Schwarzenegger effort is Martin Wilson (no relation to the former governor), who has served as a consultant for energy and telephone companies.
In 2000, The Times disclosed that Martin Wilson’s consulting firm, Public Strategies Inc., had received $375,000 from a controversial earthquake research foundation set up by Quackenbush.
The former insurance commissioner was forced to resign in July 2000 to avoid impeachment after hearings showed he had reached secret settlements with major insurance companies that allowed them to contribute to foundations instead of being fined for mishandling Northridge earthquake claims. The foundations were set up to help earthquake victims but spent millions of dollars instead on TV spots designed to enhance Quackenbush’s political image.
Pete Wilson could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But a close associate said Democrats were making a mistake by trying to demonize the former governor and, with him, Schwarzenegger.
“It’s not a Pete Wilson sequel,” said Bill Whalen, a former Wilson speechwriter who shares an office with him at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “It’s an Arnold Schwarzenegger premiere.”
Times staff writer Virginia Ellis contributed to this report.