Kennedy May Be More Of A Liability Than A Help To Gov.

By George Skelton, Political columnist

This probably was not what Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had in mind when he signed up Democrat Susan Kennedy to be his chief of staff.

You've got to wonder, however, what exactly he was thinking. It looks like yet another case of political naivete.

Set aside, for a moment, the money stench: Schwarzenegger's allowing Kennedy to mix public and political funds to pad her compensation package.

"I'm 45 years old; I got a mortgage to pay," she recently told the San Francisco Chronicle. Since then, she has refused to talk to reporters on the record.

Go back to the beginning: Schwarzenegger's selection of Kennedy in late November as his No. 1 aide. This was bound to cause political grief that a struggling, wounded governor could scarcely afford.

What was the message to GOP faithful, including his own staff, when Schwarzenegger chose a longtime Democratic operative and Gray Davis aide to be his top advisor? It was simply that no Republican was good enough for him. And, by the way, he was moving left.

Predictably, there was a Republican eruption. Conservatives demanded that Kennedy be fired. They called for the state GOP to un-endorse the governor's reelection at its Feb. 24-26 convention.

The harsh reaction caught Schwarzenegger by surprise.

"I always will hire the people that I want to hire," he told reporters.

"Ever since I came to California I have been a Republican, and I have had mostly Democrats working for me … when I worked in the movie business and everywhere. And no one ever asked me, 'Who is working for you?'….

"I was surrounded by 90% Democrats and even married a Democrat…. And all of a sudden now it becomes an issue. I don't think it makes sense."

That is worrisome, coming from a political leader.

Civics-1a: Sacramento, in contrast to Hollywood, operates in a two-party political system. Victors and spoils. Rewards and punishments. Party loyalties and like philosophies.

Sure, as a tough administrator and policy analyst, Kennedy is superb. She was recruited to take charge of a gubernatorial office that critics complained was dysfunctional, to refocus the governor and his administration. She may be succeeding.

Schwarzenegger mostly has been on the right course: addressing issues that directly affect people, finally getting around the state and speaking to civic leaders, laying off the dumbing-down macho lingo.

But regardless of how much Kennedy has helped inside, she has been a political drag outside.

The only way for Schwarzenegger to sell this appointment to suspicious, resentful Republicans, and Democrats who feel betrayed by Kennedy, is for the new chief of staff to concentrate on public policy. Avoid political combat and money-grubbing. Show, as Kennedy initially asserted, that she's motivated by a desire to help Schwarzenegger achieve his policy goals â€" not to make a few extra grand.

The last thing Schwarzenegger needed was for his and her ethics to be questioned. And that's what is happening.

To recap: Since her appointment, it has been reported and acknowledged that Schwarzenegger is supplementing Kennedy's $131,000-per-year public salary with $7,500 a month in political money. That's supposed to pay for her political advice (which she should be offering as chief of staff anyway) and for explaining the governor's agenda to donor groups (that she shouldn't be going near).

Turns out, in December, while still a California Public Utilities commissioner â€" a $114,000 job â€" Kennedy was slipped $25,000 from Schwarzenegger's campaign account for political advice. That came three weeks after AT&T donated $25,000 to Schwarzenegger. The donation was made four days before Kennedy voted to approve AT&T's merger with SBC. Nobody is alleging a quid pro quo, but it's a putrid perception.

See the article on Los Angeles Times website

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