Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger swept through California’s Capitol on Wednesday, pledging to immediately push the reforms promised during his campaign and reaching into the ranks of state lobbyists to select a key member of his staff.
In his first official visit to Sacramento since his election Oct. 7, Schwarzenegger held a series of friendly meetings with legislative leaders and announced that he has selected Patricia T. Clarey, a longtime aide to former Gov. Pete Wilson, to serve as his chief of staff.
Meanwhile, the governor-elect told lawmakers that he plans to call one or more special legislative sessions by the end of November to consider repealing an illegal immigrant drivers’ license bill, revising a workers’ compensation measure and restructuring the state’s billion-dollar debt-financing plan -- all of which took legislators months of wrenching, often bitter debate to agree upon before recessing in September.
“Action, action, action, action -- that’s what people have voted me into this office for,” Schwarzenegger told reporters as he began a late-afternoon meeting with the top two party leaders from both houses of the Legislature. “They wanted to have a governor that is filled with action, that performs and that represents the people, and that’s what I’m here to do.”
While Schwarzenegger could use the sessions to show voters that he is immediately moving on his campaign pledges, they could also become a double-edged sword for the new governor, who will likely have trouble resolving such complicated matters as the state’s finances and workers’ compensation in a short time frame.
Once the Legislature is in session, the Democratic leadership will be in full control of the agenda, and it is not likely to help the new governor push through his programs.
“It’s not going to be for us to be putting together any bills,” said Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-Los Angeles), who voiced skepticism that Schwarzenegger will be able to meet his goal for reforming workers’ compensation. “I think he’s talking about a 20% rate reduction, and I’m not sure how you get there.”
Schwarzenegger’s aides also reiterated his pledge to issue an executive order repealing a recent tripling of the state’s vehicle license fee. They said he will be able to replace the $4 billion in revenue from those fees that cities and counties use to finance police and fire services, but did not specify how.
“They’re essential, and at such a time as the car tax is repealed, there will be a plan announced on how we’re going to make local government whole,” said Rob Stutzman, communications director for the governor-elect.
The incoming governor’s pledge to move quickly on all those fronts came as he made the rounds in the Capitol, dozens of reporters in tow, and met with legislative leaders, who are awaiting his inauguration with a mixture of anticipation and reserve.
For the most part, Schwarzenegger was welcomed with broad smiles and accommodating words. Democratic leaders said they were prepared to challenge the new governor, if necessary, but emphasized that they hope to work with him.
The governor-elect echoed that sentiment, saying his goal Wednesday was to begin forging a relationship with his political opposition.
“I respect them and I’m looking forward to the first day of being here as governor and working together with them,” Schwarzenegger told reporters. “This was kind of the first step of creating good relationships and let them know that I am here to work together and we have to all work for the people of California.”
Just weeks after the recall campaign was polarized by partisan jousting, the mood in the Capitol was almost jovial. When Schwarzenegger arrived for his meeting with Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City), the speaker jokingly pulled out a measuring tape and threatened to get an official reading on the new governor’s height. Schwarzenegger laughed and threw his arm over the speaker’s shoulders as they went inside.
“We’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt, and on things that we disagree with him on, we’re going to fight tenaciously,” Wesson said afterward.
Down the hall, the incoming governor and Senate President Pro Tem John L. Burton (D-San Francisco) bonded over their love of schnitzel.
“We talked, joked around,” Burton said. “I think he will be -- on a personal level -- easy to work with. On a political level, we have to wait and see.”
Even Schwarzenegger’s vow to immediately repeal a new law that grants driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants did not get a rise out of the Democratic leadership.
“I think it is much ado about nothing,” said Burton, who added that he still needs to talk to the measure’s author, Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), who is hoping to broker a compromise over the law.
For their part, Republican lawmakers were jubilant about the presence of the GOP governor-elect.
“I think I’m a big winner here,” said Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga). “Sometimes I felt like I was the only one standing in the gap. Now we have somebody else that can take a lot of the heat.”
Brulte said the special sessions of the Legislature would probably be held Nov. 18-22, but he offered few details of how lawmakers would grapple with the budget, which lawmakers deadlocked over through the summer.
A special session can be called by the governor or the legislative leadership. A session can technically only deal with one matter, so Schwarzenegger’s aides suggested the new governor could call several sessions concurrently to deal with his agenda.
After his meetings at the Capitol, Schwarzenegger and his transition team chief, Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), met privately with Republican lawmakers in the offices of the California Chamber of Commerce, where he laid out his positions on appointments, the budget and workers’ compensation reform.
Sen. Bruce McPherson (R-Santa Cruz) said the Republican lawmakers gave Schwarzenegger a standing ovation when he entered the room. At one point, the governor-elect acknowledged Sen. Tom McClintock, one of his opponents in the recall election, by pointing to the veteran lawmaker and saying, “We’ll be working together,” according to McPherson.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange), shortly after the meeting. “The governor made it very clear that he’s got an open-arm policy. He’s trying to make sure everybody’s included in making public policy in California, including Democrats.”
“However,” he added, “he made it very clear that if the Democrats don’t get with the pro-business agenda ... that he’ll muscle through and he’ll take his campaign directly to the people.”
From the moment of Schwarzenegger’s midday arrival at the Capitol, it was apparent that the incoming governor, a movie star and former bodybuilder, will command an extraordinary amount of attention. Dozens of spectators who lined up outside the building and packed the rotunda inside the Capitol burst into cheers.
“Go get ‘em, Arnold!” said one man pressing forward to get a closer look. Another, Mark Herin of Sacramento, shook the governor-elect’s hand and told him, “You’ve got a big job ahead of you, Arnold, but I know you can handle it.”
Legislators who were surrounded by reporters in Schwarzenegger’s wake said his celebrity will offer him unique leverage.
“There’s probably not a street in the country or the world that he couldn’t walk down and be recognized,” Wesson said. “That has to give you something a little different.”
Still, he added, “This is a guy that has saved the world more than any other actor.... It puts him on the spot too.”
Brulte said lawmakers responded differently to Schwarzenegger than they have other governors.
“He’s not a politician,” Brulte said. “This governor-elect is a larger-than-life figure.”
That celebrity will be tested in a different forum next Wednesday, when Schwarzenegger travels to Washington to meet with the California congressional delegation.
The private meeting arranged by Dreier will include Democratic as well as Republican members of the state delegation.
Schwarzenegger has talked about seeking Washington’s help to solve California’s budget problems. And California members of Congress have begun trying to recruit the new GOP star to help promote their causes.
Times staff writers Evan Halper, Gregg Jones, Richard Simon, Jenifer Warren and Nancy Vogel contributed to this report.
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Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger met Wednesday with the legislative leaders he will likely work with most closely. The so-called Big Five includes the governor and the four Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate and Assembly:
Senate president pro tem. At 70, a liberal Democrat from San Francisco, a lawyer and former congressman known for his political skill, quick temper and occasional salty language; the most influential Democrat in the Capitol.
On Schwarzenegger: “I think it was fine. We talked, joked around. I think he will be -- on a personal level -- easy to work with. On a political level, we have to wait and see.... I told him I lose my temper sometimes, but I don’t mean anything by it so don’t throw me out the window.”
Senate minority leader. At 47, a conservative Republican from Rancho Cucamonga who entered politics after college working for former U.S. Sen. S.I. Hayakawa; warned GOP members last summer not to accept new taxes or he would work to oust them; a member of Schwarzenegger’s transition team.
On Schwarzenegger: “I think he’s ready to get to work.... I think the Legislature needs to understand that this is a governor who has the unique ability to go over our heads and talk directly to the voters, as evidenced by the fact that none of you were here when Gov. Davis and I met last time.”
Assembly speaker. At 51, a progressive Democrat from Culver City who holds a history degree and was a top aide to Los Angeles city and county officials; with several Latino colleagues jockeying for his job, he has said he will step down as speaker in March.
On Schwarzenegger: “Where it relates to the bread-and-butter issues here, I think he’s got a handle on them. And as he gets more time, I think he’ll understand the details. I was impressed with what he did know.... We have similar personalities, I think. He’s just bigger and I’m better-looking.”
Incoming Assembly minority leader. At 38, a conservative Republican from Bakersfield and a businessman from a long line of cattle ranchers; replaces Dave Cox as minority leader in January; a relatively unknown freshman in the Capitol; a member of Schwarzenegger’s transition team.
On Schwarzenegger: “I think he’s doing a tremendous job, actually very professional. You see that he’s prepared to govern from Day 1. He’s putting the team together, and I think he’s got a mandate and agenda to move forward to bring California working again.”
Los Angeles Times