To Solve Deficit, Schwarzenegger Turns to a Democrat

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his effort to end the partisan bickering that is pushing California to the brink of insolvency, is deploying Susan Kennedy, hiscigarettes online buy, paintball-playing Democratic chief of staff, to get the job done.

The 48-year-old Ms. Kennedy has built a reputation as a pragmatic leader equally inclined to work with — and lambaste — lawmakers from both parties. Such a regard would have been unthinkable five years ago, when Republicans viewed her as a stereotypical Democrat — a former director of the state party and top aide to Gov. Gray Davis who lives in famously liberal Marin County with her partner.


She is now Mr. Schwarzenegger’s closest adviser and “partner,” as the governor called her in an interview in his smoking tent in the Capitol courtyard, where the two often enjoy stogies in the afternoon. As an example of their affinity, Ms. Kennedy displays in her office a picture of her sitting in Mr. Schwarzenegger’s lap after lawmakers passed the February budget.

The governor is counting on her to help him close a new $24 billion shortfall in a $92 billion general-fund budget. Every day is crucial, as the state controller is set on Thursday to begin issuing IOUs to local governments, private contractors and others to keep California from running out of cash later this month. Mr. Schwarzenegger hopes Ms. Kennedy will use the same resourcefulness she showed in February, when the state faced a $42 billion deficit and delayed billions of dollars of payments because the governor and Democratic and Republican legislators were at a three-way impasse.

Ms. Kennedy orchestrated a strategy that helped expedite negotiations, those involved in the talks said. To get GOP legislators on the same page with the governor, a moderate often at odds with conservatives in his party, she persuaded the Assembly and Senate Republican leaders to discuss their concerns with Mr. Schwarzenegger prior to official budget negotiations. When the two Democratic legislative leaders entered the talks, the three Republicans presented a united front, making it a debate with two sides instead of three.

She didn’t always have a cordial relationship with Republicans, the governor included. When Mr. Schwarzenegger won the 2003 recall election — ousting Gov. Davis, her former boss — Ms. Kennedy said, she “was as angry and as much of an anti-Arnold person as any Democrat was.” Mr. Schwarzenegger said he regarded her as part of a gubernatorial administration in which “everything that they did was wrong.”

Their opinions of each other changed during her tenure on California’s Public Utilities Commission from 2003 to 2005, when she built a pro-business reputation. She said she realized she shared with the governor a philosophical bond on the role of regulation.

The governor said he seriously considered only her to become his new chief of staff in late 2005, an appointment that created an uproar in Sacramento. “It was war,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said. “Imagine if you’re a conservative Republican…and here is a gay or lesbian San Francisco Bay area liberal, bra burning.”

Still, her image as a “crazy militant liberal” proved unfounded, said former Republican Assembly leader Mike Villines, who served as the Assembly’s minority leader from 2006 to last month. “I really don’t view her as partisan,” he said. If anything, Ms. Kennedy and some Democratic legislators said, she has pushed the governor to the right on some issues.

Indeed, in an interview, Ms. Kennedy took several jabs at Democratic lawmakers and unions. For example, she recalled a meeting between Mr. Davis, the former governor, and the AFL-CIO, whom she said was asking for benefit increases. At one point, Ms. Kennedy said, the governor held up a legal pad covered in notes and said, “This is your four-year agenda, right?” Art Pulaski, a union leader, gave a startled response: “No, no, no. This is this year’s legislative agenda.”

Ms. Kennedy said moments like those disenchanted her with government. “Gray Davis would still be governor today if he had the chops to stand up to the unions and if the Democrats weren’t so pig-headed and owned by the special interests,” she said.

Her stances haven’t made her a favorite of unions. “Susan hasn’t demonstrated particular sensitivity to the needs of workers and working families,” said Mr. Pulaski.

Though often critical about California Democrats, Ms. Kennedy raised money for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and said she has no intention of dropping her party affiliation. “My wife would kill me,” she said.

Among Capitol workers, Ms. Kennedy is known to be relentless in pushing the governor’s agenda, which may also be one of her flaws, said Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Sacramento State University. “They’re very issue driven; they’re not very people driven necessarily,” she said, referring to Ms. Kennedy — whom she has known for 20 years — and Mr. Schwarzenegger.

Those who have worked with Ms. Kennedy describe her as ultra competitive, citing an April paintball game among the governor’s staff. Ms. Kennedy tore a knee ligament, but stayed in the game. As a sniper, she was so aggressive that she accidentally shot at her own teammates and foiled them as they were on the verge of victory. Ms. Kennedy now walks with a limp, but said she can’t wait to play again. “I know how to win now,” she said.


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