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Schwarzenegger’s election-year olive branches

Just six months ago it would have been almost inconceivable that the state’s
powerful prison-guards lobby would back Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bid for
re-election. The union had just finished spending $2.9 million to torpedo
the governor’s special-election agenda, lampooned Schwarzenegger’s attempts
at prison reform and was openly hostile to the state’s top prison official,
a Schwarzenegger appointee.

“It was awful,” says Ray McNally, the long-time political adviser of the
California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA).
But the union’s icy relations with the Republican governor have slowly
thawed.

That’s no accident. This year, Schwarzenegger has launched an ambitious
election-year outreach effort. The Republican governor is wooing past
Democratic foes and making amends with left-leaning potential political
adversaries, especially those with the money to spend.

For Schwarzenegger, it has been a meeting-filled, multi-billion-dollar
endeavor that has elevated his approval ratings after last year’s disastrous
special election. From hiring a Democrat for his top staff job to meeting
with Indian tribal leaders to courting his chief education-policy critic, it
has been an apologetic, and politically rewarding, about-face.

His relations with the CCPOA are a case in point. After two years on the
outside looking in, prison-union officials quietly have been meeting with
the governor’s top staffers and, at least once, the governor himself. Three
top prison officials–all antagonists of the CCPOA–have resigned or been
fired.

A scathing report released this week cited the “CCPOA’s influence with the
Governor’s Office” for two of those departures and accused Schwarzenegger of
“a return to the Davis Administration’s practice” of letting CCPOA call
shots in the prison system.

With the recent changes, the correctional officers’ executive vice-president
Chuck Alexander says the union, and its estimated $10 million war chest, is
considering staying out of the governor’s race altogether–or even backing
Schwarzenegger.

“It is a refreshing change from a year ago,” said Alexander of the
governor’s friendlier tone. “We have not decided at this point where or even
if we are going to engage in the governor’s election this year.”

A prison guard union endorsement of Schwarzenegger is now a real
possibility. “The governor’s actions could very well change our actions,” he
said, as the union renegotiates a labor contract set to expire July 1.

Observers both in and out of the administration point to the December hiring
of Susan Kennedy, a Democrat and one-time top aide to Gov. Gray Davis, as
chief of staff as critical to the turnaround. Kennedy’s predecessor, Pat
Clarey, a prot


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