The Right Coast

December 01, 2005
"Darn It, He Just Can't Resist Anyone Named Kennedy!"
By Gail Heriot

The following is an item by John Fund from the Wall Street Journal's Political Diary fee-paid news service. I reproduce it in its entirety, since it is not otherwise available on the web.

"An episode of the TV political drama "The West Wing" could never top the bizarre appointment Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has made as his new chief of staff, the top administrative post in his government. Susan Kennedy is the former deputy chief of staff to Gray Davis, the discredited, spendthrift governor whom Mr. Schwarzenegger replaced after a recall.

"While highly competent, Ms. Kennedy's liberal pedigree is so extensive that she told the Los Angeles Times just last May she was first inspired politically by Jane Fonda's Vietnam-era activities. Indeed, on arriving in California as a young woman, her first move was to join the Santa Monica-based Campaign for Economic Democracy, run by radical activist Tom Hayden, Ms. Fonda's then-husband. GOP legislators are stunned that their governor could take the risk of so completely alienating the conservative activists he'll need to win re-election. "I can't convince people to walk precincts for the governor if he has appointed as his top aide someone who so admired Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden that she went to work for them," a conservative leader told me.

"Ms. Kennedy is currently a member of the state Public Utilities Commission, to which Gray Davis appointed her a few weeks before he was recalled in 2003. Schwarzenegger adviser Mike Murphy insists that her conservative critics are playing "to a stereotype off an old resume" and that "she has been a free-market hero at the PUC." Ms. Kennedy herself told reporters yesterday she supported all of Governor Schwarzenegger's ballot initiatives last month, but no one can find any public evidence to back up the claim. "That's not the Kennedy philosophy many Capitol Democrats had known," Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton dryly observes. Indeed, Ms. Kennedy told reporters yesterday: "I've been 25 years in the Democratic Party, 25 years slogging for candidates and causes I believed in and still believe in. And my philosophy has not changed."

"But her new boss is sweeping past such concerns. "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," he told reporters. He says that "95%" of those he has called are supportive of her appointment.

"He must either be highly selective in his calling or those on the other end were being highly deferential. A longtime personal friend of the governor calls the Kennedy appointment, coupled with reports the governor's next budget will be chock full of new spending, "inexplicable and politically suicidal." A former Democratic state legislator compared Ms. Kennedy's appointment to the ill-fated nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Still another ally was told by the governor that Mr. Schwarzenegger could find no Republican capable of doing the job he wanted done. "I don't know what's worse," the ally told me, "that he's either psyched himself into believing that or that he's convinced himself I would believe him."

"The governor will now enter his re-election campaign with a liberal chief of staff who has no credibility with the GOP legislators he needs as a base of support for his initiatives. He will face one of two liberal Democratic opponents next fall: state Treasurer Phil Angelides or state Comptroller Steve Westly. At least his new chief of staff will be able to provide some insights into his potential opponents. She's worked closely with both of them. Mr. Angelides was Ms. Kennedy's boss when she was executive director of the California Democratic Party in the 1990s. As for Mr. Westly, his new chief of staff, Ross LaJeunesse, happens to have been Ms. Kennedy's chief of staff until last July. Before that, he was a top aide to Senator Edward Kennedy, who is Mr. Schwarzenegger's relative.

"If Governor Schwarzenegger appears comfortable with all this, it's because he's convinced himself he's now covered all his political bases. Save for one. He's just forgotten the conservative base that happened to have put the recall on the ballot that made him governor in the first place. "--John Fund