Gov. May Put Davis Aide in Key Post
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, launching an overhaul of his administration, is poised to hire a former Democratic Party activist and high-ranking aide to Gray Davis as his new chief of staff, sources familiar with the negotiations said Tuesday.
The hiring of Susan P. Kennedy -- a former executive director of the California Democratic Party, longtime abortion rights activist and Cabinet secretary to Davis, the Democrat whom Schwarzenegger replaced -- would signal a shift in direction for the Republican governor.
Schwarzenegger has been seeking to recover politically from the defeat of his ballot initiatives earlier this month and prepare for his reelection bid in this heavily Democratic state.
Multiple administration officials refused to discuss Kennedy. “Why would we comment on something we haven’t announced or confirmed?” spokeswoman Julie Soderlund said.
Another administration official abruptly hung up the phone when asked about Kennedy. But an announcement of her appointment could come as early as today, said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Kennedy, 45, recently told The Times she was a “Democrat to the core,” and rumors of her appointment have already upset some Republican activists, particularly social conservatives whose allegiance to Schwarzenegger has been a marriage more of convenience than commitment.
But Kennedy, who is a member of the state’s Public Utilities Commission, is also considered friendly to business interests -- a major part of Schwarzenegger’s political coalition.
Moreover, she is known as a pragmatic taskmaster who could bring order to the disparate ideologies and allegiances of Schwarzenegger’s inner circle.
Schwarzenegger’s administration has been beset by infighting and mixed messages, in part because the governor takes advice from a wide range of sources, including close friends in Hollywood and Republican political insiders he has known only a few years.
His political circle already includes at least two prominent Democrats: First Lady of California Maria Shriver and longtime friend and aide Bonnie Reiss. Shriver recently hired another former Cabinet secretary to Davis, Daniel Zingale, as her chief of staff.
Nonetheless, such a high-profile reach to the other side of the political divide is unusual in the sharply divided politics of California state government.
The move stands in contrast to the strategy Schwarzenegger followed for most of the last year, in which he emphasized issues that appealed to Republican voters.
Kennedy would replace Patricia Clarey, a Republican and one of Schwarzenegger’s first appointments.
As chief of staff, Clarey helped stock the senior ranks of the administration with Republican loyalists and trusted colleagues from former Gov. Pete Wilson’s office.
Conservative Republicans said they were already troubled by the administration’s shift in direction, which began just after the Nov. 8 election when Schwarzenegger said he wanted to borrow billions of dollars to shore up the state’s infrastructure rather than trim the budget.
Kennedy is not going to help, one prominent conservative said:
“She embodies everything I have spent my life opposing. It obviously raises more problems and concerns about where he is headed next year,” said Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly. “There is a list of things now where it appears we would have been better off if Gray Davis were governor.”
On the other side of the political spectrum, Barry Broad, a union lobbyist, said the moves suggest Schwarzenegger’s government is “literally turning back into the Davis administration before our very eyes. I can’t believe that they recall them and then hire them back.”
Yet members of Sacramento’s political establishment from both parties, who spoke about the possibility of Kennedy’s appointment, praised her.
Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) said that despite her early years as a Democratic partisan and abortion rights activist, Kennedy is “no flaming liberal.” Kennedy has proved she is “able to subordinate her own ego and personality to get the job done,” he said.
Former Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte, now a consultant, said: “If every member of Gov. Davis’ staff were as talented as Susan Kennedy, there wouldn’t be a Gov. Schwarzenegger in office today.
“Very few people know what it takes to run a governor’s office,” Brulte said. If Schwarzenegger chooses Kennedy, “Republicans who may be concerned about her will over time find her to be an incredibly capable manager,” he said.
As a member of the utilities commission, appointed by Davis, Kennedy is the highest-ranking gay official in California.
Early in Davis’ first term as governor, Kennedy and her partner, Vicki Marti, a psychotherapist, held a commitment ceremony in Maui, Hawaii, attended by high-ranking administration officials.
On the commission, Kennedy has staked out a variety of pro-business positions that have prompted some industry observers to compare her to a Republican.
Although those parts of her resume may endear Kennedy to some of Schwarzenegger’s backers, other parts of her career are more solidly partisan. A protege of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kennedy started her political career working in Los Angeles for Students for Economic Democracy, an advocacy group set up by former state Sen. Tom Hayden. In 1992, she was executive director of the California Democratic Party and helped orchestrate a victory for Feinstein and other Democrats.
At the time, Kennedy worked for the party’s chairman, Phil Angelides, now state treasurer and a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to run against Schwarzenegger next year.
One area where Kennedy and Schwarzenegger may differ on is abortion. The governor backed Proposition 73 this year, which would have required parents to be notified before a minor could have an abortion. In the early 1990s, Kennedy headed the California Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, which fights abortion restrictions.
On another politically hot issue, same-sex marriage, the two may be more closely aligned.
The governor vetoed a bill this year that would have legalized same-sex marriages, saying the courts had yet to decide the issue.
Kennedy has argued against the “blind self-righteousness” of activists who criticized Feinstein for saying that the push for same-sex marriages was coming too fast, too soon.
Replacing Clarey as chief of staff probably will bring other changes to the administration.
During the last few months, Schwarzenegger aides have privately confided that if Clarey were to leave, it could give the administration a decidedly different cast, spurring an exodus of aides who owe their positions to her.
Kennedy’s appointment could rankle some conservative Republicans as Schwarzenegger heads into the governor’s race.
But the party seems not to have -- or want -- another choice; no major challengers have emerged for the Republican primary in June, and the party has already endorsed Schwarzenegger.
Dismissing the notion that Kennedy could hinder Schwarzenegger’s ability to win votes among Republicans, Perata said: “The only person who gets the votes is the governor.”
Times staff writers Marc Lifsher, Dan Morain and Jenifer Warren contributed to this report.
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