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Schwarzenegger has made deft moves, so far

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writers of The Christian Science Monitor, Mark SappenfeldStaff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / November 17, 2003


In the normal meet-and-greet world of government, where a handshake and a smile can be the currency of consensus, the gesture might have been seen as thoughtful, but not unusual. Yet in the partisan dysfunction that has come to characterize California politics, it was an act of startling boldness.

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Two weeks after his recall victory, Republican governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger and members of his transition team walked the halls of the Capitol, meeting for a half an hour or more with each of the state's constitutional officers - all Democrats - from the secretary of state to the insurance commissioner.

When Mr. Schwarzenegger crossed the hall from Gov. Gray Davis's office to the office of Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the lieutenant governor quipped that under the notoriously aloof Governor Davis, that short walk "had never happened before," recalls transition team chairman David Dreier.

In many ways, the moment sums up how Schwarzenegger has slipped into the role of politician with surprising skill and savvy. Monday, when he officially takes office, his test will begin in earnest. But so far, say many politicians and analysts, he has made all the right moves.

Through bipartisan appointments and overtures to politicians of both parties - in California and on Capitol Hill - he has cast himself as the moderate consensus-builder some say the Golden State has lacked since Ronald Reagan. Moreover, politicians themselves acknowledge that his open and friendly manner is no small relief after the Davis administration's legendary aloofness.

To be sure, Schwarzenegger has his critics, who wish for more substance amid the style and symbolism. But even among those who offer compliments grudgingly, there is a sense that he has maintained much of the momentum from his comprehensive Oct. 7 election, and that this position - as well as his moderate ideals - gives him a unique opportunity to reshape the state.

"Schwarzenegger is so far following through on one of his biggest pledges to be bipartisan and inclusive," says Elizabeth Garrett, a political scientist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. "He has not yet come out with lots of policy but he is handling himself well ... with California and national leaders with whom he must eventually work."

Bipartisan appointing

Since the days after the election, Schwarzenegger has gradually come to define himself through public pronouncements and private meetings among his staff, members of the state Legislature, and California's congressional delegation. The message in both venues, analysts and insiders say, has merely amplified his primary campaign theme: He is about the people's - not the parties' - business.

This has been most obvious in his political appointments. Though the majority of his new staff are conservatives, he has also named a self-described liberal as senior adviser, a Democratic environmentalist to head the state EPA, and a member of the Democratic attorney general's office as his chief lawyer.

"His appointments indicate a lesson he learned from years as a bodybuilder, which is you do some arm curls with the right arm, then the left arm," says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. "He is clearly making openings to Democrats and liberals in his administration, which is quieting discontent even as it creates better expectations by those on the other side of the aisle."

In addition, Schwarzenegger has moved to mute charges that his "outsider" campaign has been coopted by insiders from former Gov. Pete Wilson's administration. He has tipped Donna Arduin, a political veteran of Florida and Minnesota, as finance director and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan as education secretary.

"The choice of Dick Riordan is very important because Arnold has put so much emphasis on the importance of education," says Dr. Pitney, noting that Mr. Riordan established a reputation in Los Angeles for reining in a maverick school board. "That has thrown a bone to moderate Republicans, who have always been open to Riordan in general, while at the same time giving conservative Republicans someone they can stomach on education issues."