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Restive GOP Activists May Stage Revolt

Times Staff Writer

Republican activists disenchanted with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Thursday that they will try to strip the governor of the party’s endorsement unless he fires his new chief of staff, Democrat Susan P. Kennedy.

Restive Republicans said they would rally conservatives behind a resolution, to be offered at the state GOP convention in San Jose next month, that may give Schwarzenegger an ultimatum: Dump Kennedy by March 15 or the party will withdraw its backing of his reelection bid.

Drafts of the resolution are circulating, and proponents of the idea are planning to meet in Palm Springs this weekend to discuss strategy.

The insurgent party members said they are attempting to mobilize support among gun owners, abortion opponents and other conservatives.

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“We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve just had it with the guy,” said Michael Schroeder, an attorney from Corona del Mar and a former chairman of the California Republican Party. “It’s become clear that he’s no longer pursuing a Republican agenda.”

Steve Frank, a conservative activist from Simi Valley who is planning to attend the convention, said: “I know who he is today. I have no idea who he will be tomorrow.... And we need some predictability as to which Arnold Schwarzenegger is governor.”

Party members said they resent Schwarzenegger’s recent efforts to woo Democrats and that he is appointing too many of them to judgeships. They also dislike his plans to borrow $68 billion for a sweeping public works program, and say that his state budget is fraught with spending that California cannot afford.

Schwarzenegger never positioned himself as a classic Republican.

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Running in a predominantly Democratic state, he has always played up his wife’s Kennedy family roots while touting his own socially moderate positions.

Last year, however, he pushed a more partisan Republican agenda, which was rejected by voters in a special election. After that, he hired Kennedy, apologized for calling the special election and made other moves that angered Republicans.

But an aide predicted that Schwarzenegger would ultimately retain the party’s endorsement.

“We feel very confident that the Republican Party, in the end, will endorse Arnold Schwarzenegger,” said Adam Mendelsohn, the governor’s new communications director.

Still, Schwarzenegger has deployed his government staff in a bid to dampen the conflict. On Wednesday, his cabinet secretary, Fred Aguiar, addressed about 150 members of the L.A. County Republican Party, parrying questions about Schwarzenegger’s ambitious plans to build new highways, levees, ports, schools and courthouses.

Reaction was mixed, said Linda Boyd, chairwoman of the group.

“Fred did an excellent job of defending a not-very-good position on behalf of the governor,” she said. “This is a phenomenal amount of debt to accrue, and there are other ways to solve these problems.”

Also on Wednesday, Schwarzenegger and Kennedy spoke to a group of campaign donors at a hotel in Newport Beach, hoping to reassure Republicans that his agenda merits their support.

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The party revolt comes one month after state GOP Chairman Duf Sundheim held a meeting with the governor and Republican leaders and then pronounced: “The Susan Kennedy issue is over.”

In an interview Thursday, Sundheim suggested that the issue is not closed yet.

“There have been some concerns expressed, and we’re in the process of engaging in a dialogue with regard to those concerns,” Sundheim said. “It’s not unprecedented in the history of our party.”

The state Republican Party’s biannual convention is scheduled for Feb. 24-26.

“We’re expecting the governor will go all out to stop us from expressing our views ... " said Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, a grass-roots organization. “There will be a conflict at the state convention between those of us who want to support Republican ideas and those who want to be pro-governor.”

One member of Schwarzenegger’s political team said the danger of the party yanking its endorsement is that it could mean fewer campaign dollars for Republicans in other races. The aide said Schwarzenegger’s most generous donors are unlikely to give money to a state Republican Party that has just rescinded its endorsement.

That, in turn, could mean less money available for Republicans running in legislative races.

“If I said [to a donor], ‘Give to the Republican Party,’ they would say, ‘You mean, give to that group that just pulled that endorsement from the governor? Go back and get your act together,’ ” said the aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the issue.

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