governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday announced the
first change to his administration since his resounding
special election failure, appointing a longtime
Democratic activist and lesbian as his chief of staff.
The move to replace Patricia Clarey had been
widely anticipated since voters defeated all four of
the governor's "year of reform" measures November 8.
But the announcement of California Public Utilities
commissioner Susan Kennedy as Clarey's replacement caught
many Republicans and Democrats off-guard.
Kennedy, 45, was cabinet secretary to former
California governor Gray Davis, who was ousted in
the 2003 recall election that brought Schwarzenegger
to power. She also is a former director of an abortion
rights group and becomes one of the highest-profile gays in
state politics, making her appointment a potentially risky
one for the Republican governor.
"She's a woman that is known as being a
hard-working woman, dedicated, and is willing to work
whatever it takes to get the job done," Schwarzenegger
said during an afternoon news conference at the
capitol. "She's willing to set her Democratic philosophy
aside and do the job and do my vision--to be
able to work together with Democrats and Republicans."
Schwarzenegger has lost support over the past
year from most Democrats and independent voters,
relying increasingly on conservatives to carry his
message. Kennedy's appointment could be a way to regain the
bipartisan image he crafted during the recall election but
also jeopardizes his standing among conservatives, his
only reliable supporters.
"This makes Schwarzenegger a man without a
country," said GOP strategist Dave Gilliard, who
helped run the campaign to recall Davis. "The
Democrats will never accept him or embrace him, and now he's
breaking with his base. I don't understand it."
Even some leading Democrats appeared puzzled by
the appointment. "Any move by the governor to embrace
Democratic values is good news for the state," said
Steve Maviglio, spokesman for Democratic assembly
speaker Fabian Nunez. "However, it leaves many Democrats as
well as Republicans wondering if he has any core
values at all."
But the Democratic leader of the state senate
praised the appointment, calling it a wise decision
that underscores Schwarzenegger's desire to create a
more collaborative tone around the capitol next year. "The
senate wants the state to get back to basics and focus on
the issues people care about," senate president pro
tem Don Perata said in a statement. "Susan can be an
effective part of that."
At Schwarzenegger's side Wednesday, Kennedy
sought to bury the partisan labels, seeing her
appointment as a historic opportunity to break the
political gridlock in Sacramento. She said she believes in
Schwarzenegger and his vision for California.
"If this governor is willing to risk his legacy
to take a chance on me, I'm willing to risk my
political career by doing what I think is right," she said.
The move comes three weeks after the governor
suffered a sweeping loss in a special election
showdown he orchestrated against Democrats and their
union supporters. Voters rejected all eight of the
initiatives on the ballot, including the four promoted
by Schwarzenegger. They would have capped state
spending, changed the way legislative districts are drawn,
reformed teacher tenure rules, and restricted the ability of
public employee unions to raise money for political purposes.
Responding to a reporter's question about
Schwarzenegger's initiatives, Kennedy said she
supported all four of the governor's initiatives. "I
see a man whose philosophy is not that different from mine.
I think a moderate Democrat and a moderate
Republican--there is not a lot of light between
us," she said. "This is not a time for California to
hunker down behind partisan labels."
Former California governor Pete Wilson, a
Republican, said in an interview that Republicans who
are critical of Kennedy's appointment do not know her.
"People who have actually experienced her performance
on the PUC and the water board have uniform good things to
say about her, and I am one of them," said Wilson,
noting her support of less governmental regulation
coupled with support for consumer protection.
He also discounted the notion that
Schwarzenegger has appointed a Democrat in an effort
to redeem himself in the eyes of the state's majority
party. "If there are some expecting this signals some kind
of change in course on his part, I don't think there's going
to be any change," he said. "People who are expecting
that she is going to be extremely liberal in her
orientation just because she has a D after her
name--they are going to be disappointed and have
not been paying attention to her performance."
Clarey, a Republican and deputy chief of staff
during the Wilson administration, announced in a
letter sent Wednesday to Schwarzenegger that she would
resign at the start of the New Year. "It's been quite
a ride," she said in the letter, which was released by the
governor's staff. "While much remains to be done, I am
gratified at the success we have realized. California
is on a much better path thanks to your leadership."
Schwarzenegger hinted that further staff changes
may be coming. "There are a lot of people who are
burned-out," he told reporters. "People after a
certain amount of time in this job, working here at
the capitol, they get burned-out and want to move on."
Kennedy, who does not have a college degree,
will officially start the $131,412-a-year position
January 1 but has already begun work in the governor's
office. As chief of staff, she will be charged with running
day-to-day staff operations while also helping implement
Schwarzenegger's policy agenda.
She will join a Schwarzenegger inner circle that
already is filled with Democrats in key positions.
Among them are Daniel Zingale, another former Davis
aide who now serves as chief of staff to first lady Maria
Shriver; senior aide Bonnie Reiss; and Terry Tamminen,
Schwarzenegger's cabinet secretary.
Kennedy was appointed to the Public Utilities
Commission in 2003 and defended Davis during the
recall campaign. Before joining the Davis
administration, she was communications director for U.S.
senator Dianne Feinstein. She has served as executive
director of the California Democratic Party and
executive director of the California Abortion Rights
She also has
crafted a pro-business image that aligns well with
Schwarzenegger's goals to strengthen the state's economy and
reform its budget process. In a statement, the
California Chamber of Commerce said it has "the
highest respect" for Kennedy and noted her efforts to
improve the state's economy.
Kennedy also played a role in the 2002
controversy surrounding a $95 million contract the
state initially signed with Oracle Corp. just a few
days before the company gave Davis a $25,000 campaign
contribution. As Davis's deputy chief of staff and
cabinet secretary, Kennedy signed a memo indicating
that the governor's office had no problems with moving
forward with the agreement.
The contract was supposed to save the state $16
million, but it was canceled after auditors said that
it would end up costing the state $41 million. Kennedy
was called to testify before a legislative committee,
where she said she never discussed the computer deal with
Davis before it was signed.
On the Public Utilities Commission, she also
drew fire from consumer groups earlier this year for
voting to suspend a sweeping set of protections for
cell phone users. At issue were claims of false
advertising and confusing billing practices. Kennedy said
she voted to suspend the measures because they could
have caused some carriers to raise their rates or
leave California altogether. (AP)