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Bad break for gov.'s privacy

Times Staff Writer

Three days after he tripped and fell on an Idaho ski slope, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger underwent surgery Tuesday morning for a broken leg -- a 90-minute procedure that his doctors termed successful.

While the governor was under anesthesia, he relinquished the powers of office to Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. Schwarzenegger resumed his duties about 10:45 a.m. when his doctors pronounced him fit.

Schwarzenegger was expected to make a full recovery. He will remain hospitalized for three days; afterward, he will walk on crutches without a cast.

Dr. Kevin Ehrhart, Schwarzenegger’s orthopedic surgeon, said recovery will take about eight weeks. The surgery proceeded “without complication,” Ehrhart said in a statement, and “the post-operation X-rays looked great.”

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Schwarzenegger fractured his femur Saturday while skiing on Bald Mountain in Sun Valley, Idaho -- one of many out-of-state trips the governor has made without public notice. The episode focused renewed attention on Schwarzenegger’s continuing quest to keep his private life out of the public eye -- standard procedure for a movie star but unusual for a sitting governor.

A friend who spoke to Schwarzenegger after the accident said the governor was “aggravated” about what happened, describing the accident as a “slow fall” on an icy surface.

Schwarzenegger’s press office would not release any details about the accident. But Adi Erber, a ski instructor who was with him at the time, said Schwarzenegger was standing still before the accident, preparing for the final 200 yards of the Lower Warm Springs run.

The governor’s ski pole became caught in one of his skis, causing him to trip and fall, Erber said, describing it as a “freak accident.”

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He said the governor was in pain and that a rescue team took him down the hill on a toboggan.

The governor is being treated at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, according to people familiar with his medical care. Schwarzenegger’s office would not disclose the hospital, citing security reasons.

In a prepared statement, First Lady Maria Shriver said: “When we checked Arnold into the hospital on Christmas night, he was looking forward to his surgery. He had been in good spirits. He asked when he could get back to work and he’s looking forward to his inauguration next week. Our children and I are grateful for everyone’s support and prayers.”

Schwarzenegger loves to have fun on his own terms, even if there is an element of danger -- a dimension of his personality that is seldom on public display.

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He relishes long rides on his motorcycle. He goes on rafting trips. And he skis.

Pat O’Brien, a television personality and longtime friend of Schwarzenegger and Shriver, said Tuesday that the governor “lives his life to the fullest, and with that comes risks -- whether it be on the slopes or on a motorcycle.”

In January, Schwarzenegger was riding his Harley-Davidson with his son Patrick in a sidecar when he got into a crash. The accident occurred when the driver of a Volvo SUV pulled out of a driveway on Mandeville Canyon Road in Brentwood. Schwarzenegger received 15 stitches on his lip. His son was not injured.

Schwarzenegger conceded that he had been driving for years without a proper motorcycle license; he has since gotten one.

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In December 2001, Schwarzenegger broke six ribs when he fell off his motorcycle. He was hospitalized for four days at St. John’s.

Few Californians would have known their governor spent hours skiing near his Idaho vacation home this weekend if Schwarzenegger had not broken his leg.

Following its standard practice, the governor’s press office on Friday revealed only that Schwarzenegger had left the state. The press release said that Schwarzenegger would have no public activities from Dec. 23 to 25. But in a private letter to Bustamante’s office, the governor’s staff said that he would be out of state from Dec. 22 to Jan 1.

Cloaking the governor’s itinerary ensures at least some measure of privacy when Schwarzenegger is taking a break, aides contend.

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“The governor is an international celebrity who values his privacy when he’s with his family,” said Adam Mendelsohn, the governor’s communications director.

But secrecy carries an added advantage: minimizing the chance of an unflattering photograph or a spontaneous quote from a vacationing Schwarzenegger that veers off message.

Early in his term, Schwarzenegger revealed his out-of-state whereabouts. That ended after a trip to Hawaii in April 2004.

The Times found the governor at the Four Seasons Resort in Maui and in an interview, Schwarzenegger said he wanted to see the Legislature reduced to part-time status. He never pursued that option.

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Schwarzenegger frequently travels outside California -- either on business or for pleasure.

He has been out of state for 204 of the 1,136 days he has been in office -- or 1 of every 5.6 days, according to records kept by Bustamante’s office.

In contrast, former Gov. Gray Davis was out of state for 113 of 1,779 days in office -- or 1 of every 15.7 days.

Though Schwarzenegger has often been away as part of his job, he has also gone to Nevada and Ohio for bodybuilding competitions that had no connection to state business.

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Locating the governor can be a game of cat and mouse. In 2004, Schwarzenegger addressed the Republican National Convention in New York. Aides said he was returning afterward to California. Instead, he veered off to Sun Valley. No one from his staff announced that his itinerary had changed.

In August 2005, he made a trip to the Bahamas that was never announced.

A survey of some western governors Tuesday showed practices vary when it comes to fully disclosing private out-of-state travel.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson reveals his whereabouts on private trips on a case-by-case basis, according to his office. Nevada Gov. Kenny C. Guinn’s office said he might not necessarily issue a news release if he is on a family vacation. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office said she does not reveal her destination when she takes personal trips out of state.

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When Schwarzenegger leaves California, Bustamante becomes acting governor.

Bustamante has taken little dramatic action in the time Schwarzenegger has been away. One exception came in December 2003. Schwarzenegger had gone with his family to Sun Valley for the holidays.

While he was away, Bustamante declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County in response to an earthquake.

A spokesman for Bustamante said that California, a state prone to natural disasters, is at greater risk when the governor is gone as much as Schwarzenegger.

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“You need someone on the ground who can take action immediately when it’s needed -- activating the National Guard or getting fire crews where they need to go,” said Bustamante aide Stephen Green. “When you’re gone one day out of five, a lot of things just don’t get done.”

Bustamante gave his office the day off Tuesday and exercised no powers in the hours Schwarzenegger was under anesthesia.

“I wanted him to appoint me to the Supreme Court, but he wouldn’t,” Green said.

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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