Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday took the first step to shaking up his administration after his resounding special election failure, appointing a longtime Democratic activist as his chief of staff.
The move to replace Patricia Clarey had been widely expected since voters defeated all four of the governor’s “year of reform” measures Nov. 8. Clarey was campaign manager for the effort.
But the announcement of state Public Utilities Commissioner Susan Kennedy as Clarey’s replacement caught many Republicans and Democrats off guard.
Kennedy, 45, was Cabinet secretary to former Gov. 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 one of the highest-profile gays in state politics, making her appointment a risky one for the Republican governor.
“She’s a woman that is known as being a hardworking woman, dedicated, and is willing to work whatever it takes to get the job done,” Schwarzenegger said at a news conference. “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.”
Kennedy’s appointment could help regain the support of Democrats and independents the governor lost over the last year, but it also jeopardizes his standing among conservatives, his only reliable supporters.
‘Man without a country’
“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.”
At Schwarzenegger’s side Wednesday, Kennedy sought to downplay the partisan labels, seeing her appointment as a historic opportunity to end the political gridlock in Sacramento.
“I believe in this man, and I believe in what he’s trying to do for this state and where he’s trying to take California,” she said. “I think a moderate Democrat and a moderate Republican — there is not a lot of light between us.”
Kennedy said she voted for all of Schwarzenegger’s ballot measures, which would have capped state spending, changed the way legislative districts are drawn and reformed teacher tenure rules.
A fourth measure, which Schwarzenegger did not place on the ballot but embraced as part of his agenda, would have restricted public employee unions in raising money for political purposes. It was not immediately clear from Kennedy’s response whether she voted for that proposal.
‘Quite a ride’
Clarey said in a letter sent Wednesday to Schwarzenegger that she would resign at the end of the 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.”
Schwarzenegger hinted at further staff changes. “People after a certain amount of time in this job, working here at the Capitol, they get burned out and want to move on,” he said.
Kennedy will join a Schwarzenegger inner circle that already contains Democrats in key positions. Among them are senior aide Bonnie Reiss, Cabinet Secretary Terry Tamminen and Daniel Zingale, another former Davis aide who now serves as chief of staff to first lady Maria Shriver.
Kennedy, appointed to the PUC in 2003, has served as executive director of the California Democratic Party and executive director of the California Abortion Rights Action League.