Schwarzenegger picks key Davis aide Susan Kennedy as new chief of staff, sparking anger among some Republicans

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hiring of Susan Kennedy, a top aide
to former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, as his new chief of staff sparked a
firestorm among angry Republicans that got deeper as news of the appointment
sank in.

While groups like the California Chamber of Commerce heralded the selection,
some rank-and-file Republicans denounced the decision. By the time the
official announcement was made Wednesday, the Web site had been created and there were even faint
rumblings of a potential challenge to Schwarzenegger in next year’s June 6
Republican primary.

Republican consultant Dan Schnur suggested that Schwarzenegger could run as
an independent and siphon off support from the broad midsection of both
parties, while GOP strategist Dave Gilliard said Arnold had divided the
Republican Party “like it has never been divided before.”

Schwarzenegger himself was in damage control mode, spending time before his
press conference to reach out to conservative blogger Jon Fleischman to try
to assuage conservatives’ concerns about the Kennedy appointment.

Kennedy, the No. 2 person in Davis’ executive staff, served as executive
director of the state Democratic Party under Phil Angelides–currently the
state treasurer and a candidate for governor next year. As chief of staff,
she will hold the most powerful administrative position in state government,
with broad authority over policy-making and the sprawling bureaucracy.

“I wouldn’t want to serve on the S.S. Schwarzenegger either, now that
Captain Arnold has disabled the starboard rudder,” one Republican said on
the OC Blog, referring to the departure of chief of staff Patricia Clarey,
who officially leaves Jan. 1.

“It’s unreal. She served the governor that voters kicked out. She was
executive director of the Democratic Party. She’s a Democrat through and
through. What is he (Schwarzenegger) thinking?” another Republican said.
Unperturbed, Schwarzenegger hinted that more changes could be on the

“There might be some changes as time goes on. You never know what’s going to
happen. There are a lot of people who are burned out,” Schwarzenegger told
reporters on Wednesday.

Kennedy was hired after two days of intense, closed-door meetings that
included negotiating sessions across the street from the Capitol in the
Hyatt Regency Hotel, where Schwarzenegger maintains a private suite while in
Sacramento. The decision culminated a five-hour meeting, sources said, at
which Kennedy demanded–and got–sole authority over hiring and firing the
executive staff. That provision spread anger among Republican insiders, who
said they feared a major purge of GOP staffers among the governor’s inner

One source familiar with the negotiations said that Kennedy also sought–and
received–a promise from Schwarzenegger that he would not go around her to
seek outside advice on issues concerning her job responsibilities.
Schwarzenegger’s penchant for seeking outside counsel has been a divisive
issue within the executive staff for more than a year, and partly figured in
the departure of Clarey.

Republicans said Kennedy’s hiring had been pushed by Democrats close to the
governor–including his wife, Maria Shriver, and advisers Bonnie Reiss and
Daniel Zingale. Democrats, meanwhile, said Schwarzenegger’s decision was
based more on his personal nonpartisan nature, rather than from succumbing
to persuasive Democrats.

Whatever the reason, the governor’s choice is the most dramatic in the
Capitol since former Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, chose the late B.T.
Collins, a maimed Republican Vietnam war veteran, as his chief of staff.

A big supporter of Collins was former Gov. Pete Wilson, who lauded Schwarzenegger’s selection of Kennedy.

“She’s very much in the mold of Pat Clarey, and both are efficient, effective and disciplined. She (Kennedy) got things done for the governor (Davis) so he could concentrate on policy,” Wilson said.

“They (Kennedy’s critics) may be concerned that this appointment signals some basic course change on the part of the governor. I am convinced that it does not. And how are the Democrats going to make a significant issue of this? By saying that one of their best and brightest has defected and is trying to assist the governor and implement his agenda? That’s strange,” Wilson added.

Kennedy’s hiring signals a dramatic shakeup in the inner circle around Gov.
Schwarzenegger, who suffered a major political defeat on Nov. 8, when his
attempts to overhaul government–including spending limits and the creation
of a retired judges’ panel to supervise reapportionment–were rejected by

Kennedy had been approached by the governor recently in Los Angeles to take
the job–but turned it down.

But she changed her mind after Schwarzenegger agreed to her demand to be
given broad authority over the staff. Schwarzenegger also had approached
others to take the post, including former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg,
who turned him down.

Clarey, who joined Schwarzenegger early in his administration, was scheduled
to leave by the end of year. In an e-mail to the executive staff, Clarey
said she was stepping down on Jan. 1, and that her “decision has been a long
time coming.”

“I look forward to transitioning with Susan during the month of December and
am confident it will be a seamless transition,” she added.

Also leaving, voluntarily, was Rob Stutzman, the governor’s communications
director, who will handle the governor’s re-election campaign next year.
The selection of Kennedy angered many Republicans–and some Democrats. Both
sides noted that she had served Davis–who Schwarzenegger booted from office
in the 2003 historic recall–as Cabinet Secretary. How could Schwarzenegger,
who publicly criticized Davis as an incompetent governor, hire one of Davis’
key players?

“Republicans spent years battling Susan Kennedy when she worked for the
recalled Gov. Davis. It’s unfathomable that one of the central figures of
the Davis administration and Oracle scandal would be put back in charge of
the governor’s office,” said a legislative Republican, referring to the
state’s signing of a flawed, $95 million software contract that roiled
Davis’ tenure.

Democrats were equally nonplussed. “She was the executive director of the
Democratic Party. She is everything he (Schwarzenegger) isn’t,” a Democrat

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: