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Schwarzenegger Fills Education, Finance Posts

Times Staff Writers

Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger made two appointments Monday that will help define his administration, naming former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan as education secretary while hiring away Florida’s budget chief to serve as state finance director.

Having promised a fresh approach to governing, Schwarzenegger turned to two people steeped in the duties of public office, but removed from the political culture in Sacramento.

The governor-elect nominated for the finance post 40-year-old Donna Arduin, who spent the last five years in a comparable position under Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. In Riordan, Schwarzenegger chose a former two-term mayor, one-time gubernatorial candidate, businessman and attorney whose career has been outside the state education bureaucracy.

The state teachers union immediately balked at the Riordan appointment, having wanted the governor-elect to abolish the position of education secretary outright. John Hein, an official with the California Teachers Assn., resigned from his seat on Schwarzenegger’s transition team Monday, partly to signal the union’s unhappiness over what it portrayed as a snub.

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Union President Barbara E. Kerr said the Cabinet post is duplicative, considering that the state already has a separate education board and an elected superintendent of public instruction -- Jack O’Connell.

The appointed education secretary serves as an advisor to the governor. Under Gov. Gray Davis, the secretary presides over a $1.7-million budget and up to 20 staff positions, of which a dozen are now filled. Former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson created the position by executive order in 1991.

“I’m disappointed because we didn’t talk about it very much ahead of time and because our biggest recommendation was that’s a duplicative department and we don’t need it,” Kerr said in an interview. “This looks more like business as usual in appointing an old friend, rather than going forward and trying to save money.”

Hein stepped down rather than fill a role tantamount to “window dressing,” Kerr added.

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As for Riordan himself, Kerr said, “His work with our local association was sometimes not too bad and sometimes interfering. Sometimes it was OK.”

When he was mayor in 1999, Riordan was unhappy with the direction of the Los Angeles Unified School District, contending that the board was dominated by members strongly supported by the teachers union. He successfully engineered an election drive that put Riordan-backed candidates in four of the district’s seven seats.

Arnold Steinberg, a Republican political consultant, said of Riordan: “The unions have repeatedly fought him here in L.A.”

The union, which represents 335,000 teachers statewide, is one of the major lobbying forces in Sacramento, attempting to exert its influence over the $100-billion state budget, about a third of which goes to schools.

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Schwarzenegger and the union joined forces as recently as last year, when it spent $530,000 to help win passage of the actor’s Proposition 49, making it the third-largest donor to the measure to help expand after-school programs.

A spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger, Karen Hanretty, said it was disappointing and puzzling that Hein would leave the transition team. “His reasons and motives weren’t entirely clear,” Hanretty added. “Why is he exactly resigning from the commission?”

When Hein accepted a spot on the transition team, it was not “contingent on eliminating an office within the administration,” Hanretty said.

Within Schwarzenegger’s circle, some aides had privately sought to scuttle the Riordan appointment, questioning whether he was the best pick for the job. But in a prepared statement, Schwarzenegger said of Riordan -- a friend and Brentwood neighbor -- “I have known Richard Riordan for many years and respect his dedication to improving the lives of schoolchildren throughout the state. I am confident that his experience in public service and commitment to reforming our public schools will benefit California.”

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Neither Riordan nor Arduin returned calls for comment Monday. Their salaries have not been set, Hanretty said.

Riordan, 73, is not subject to Senate confirmation. Arduin must be confirmed by the Senate, but no serious resistance is expected.

Arduin resigned from her Florida job Monday, after several weeks in which she worked as a volunteer at Schwarzenegger’s request, scouring California’s finances as a step toward identifying wasteful spending and paring a deficit estimated at between $10 billion and $25 billion. “The governor has a right to his own director of finance; he has to work with that person,” said Senate President Pro Tem John L. Burton, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which recommends to the full Senate whether to confirm gubernatorial appointees.

The two appointments are central to Schwarzenegger’s agenda. Though he is calling for budget caps and more disciplined spending, he says he will spare education. Schwarzenegger wants his education advisor to help restore autonomy to local school systems and roll back regulations that, he says, are hindering education.

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Reaction to the Riordan appointment was mixed. Many officials praised Riordan’s zeal for improving schools, while others questioned his credentials.

“I don’t think anybody can say that he hasn’t been committed to children and education,” said Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, a Democrat from Culver City.

Wesson recalled meeting Riordan at a private dinner before he entered the 2002 governor’s race. Riordan said “he was going to run for governor and the main reason he wanted to run was to make the education system more effective,” Wesson said.

But Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, a Los Angeles Democrat who heads the Education Committee, said that while Riordan’s enthusiasm is “a plus, what’s not a plus is his lack of personal experience. He’s not been a teacher. He’s not been an administrator. He’s not worked with kids in classrooms, he’s never been a school board member. And that’s a disadvantage. Can it be overcome? Of course it can.”

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Arduin remains far more of an unknown.

Advocates for the poor in California say they are alarmed at health-care cuts she oversaw in Florida.

They note that in Florida, reductions in the state’s latest budget forced about 60,000 children onto health-care waiting lists and eliminated dental care for tens of thousands of adults.

“We’re deeply concerned given her track record,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, a group that advocates medical care for the poor. “In Florida she proposed and pushed through cuts that were unthinkable to both Democrats and Republicans here in California.”

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In a resignation letter to Gov. Bush, Arduin thanked him for the opportunity to “help create a series of state budgets that have responsibly funded your priorities within limited resources.”

“Gov.-elect Schwarzenegger has offered me the challenge of helping him achieve a similar vision for California,” Arduin wrote. “I have assured him that this vision can be achieved in the Golden State.”

Democrats were careful to appear open to working with Arduin, but they also made it clear that they would not support balancing the budget through the cuts in social programs she has advocated in the past.

“I agree with Donna Arduin that we must have integrity in the budget process,” said Assembly Budget Committee Chairwoman Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach).

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“Integrity also requires us to make the necessary investments in California’s future and fulfill our commitments to the people of California.”

Wesson predicted that Schwarzenegger would not stomach the sorts of budget cuts embraced by other governors for whom Arduin has worked.

“To be successful you have to take on the persona of the individual you work for,” said Wesson. “Even though she has worked for some very conservative elected officials, Mr. Schwarzenegger has made clear he is a moderate and relatively independent.”

Conservatives were pleased by Schwarzenegger’s choice.

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Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. and one of many advisors to Schwarzenegger on transition issues, called Arduin “no nonsense and willing to make some tough recommendations.”

As for Riordan, he comes to the job with a power base in his own right -- something that could make him a more formidable player in enacting the governor’s agenda, some analysts said.

“He’s someone who doesn’t come out of the educational establishment,” said Steinberg, a Republican political consultant. “


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