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The San Francisco Chronicle
Oct 08, 2004 - 01:00 AM

by John M. Hubbell, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau

Schwarzenegger says he'll take on special interests in coming year

SAN JOSE -- A year to the day after voters swept him into office and upended California's power structure, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hinted Thursday that he would soon place broad political reform at the center of his agenda and work to "make sure that the politicians cannot be bought by special interests."

The brief remarks by Schwarzenegger, which came at a San Jose campaign event to oppose November ballot initiatives on Indian gaming, suddenly revived the populist themes he used to unseat Gov. Gray Davis. But the comments also come as public interest groups and political opponents say Schwarzenegger embodies the very ills he said he came to Sacramento to cure.

"The key thing is that we make sure that the politicians cannot be bought by special interests -- we see it all the time," Schwarzenegger told a select group of 175 Silicon Valley civic and business leaders during the brief forum he led on Propositions 68 and 70, which buck the governor's own approach to extract millions from Indian casinos.

The governor said former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery, who introduced him to the group, "is going to help me to reform government" and work "to make sure the fund-raising policies that we talked about many times" are changed. He did not elaborate and did not answer questions from reporters as he left.

McEnery, a Democrat who led San Jose from 1983 to 1990 and has long been interested in governmental reform, has informally advised Schwarzenegger on the issue from time to time. In an interview, he touched on the frustrations repeatedly voiced by Schwarzenegger on the climate of special-interest politics in Sacramento -- and the notion that the Legislature has become balkanized to extremes because of the drawing of political boundaries. Addressing such issues,
McEnery said, "is going to be a very important part of what he does in the second year."

Schwarzenegger press secretary Margita Thompson said Thursday that the governor "was focused like a laser on the economy and job creation" in his first year. Now, she said, "government reform is certainly something the governor is going to look at. His staff has it top of mind as next year's agenda is developed."

Critics have seized upon the millions in political contributions the governor has taken from business groups directly affected by his actions -- and his continuation of a late-night, closed-door deal-making style that marked efforts to pass this year's budget and reform the state's workers' compensation system -- as proof he is just another politician.

Doug Heller, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, found himself opposing Schwarzenegger several times on issues where the governor sided with those whom he had received campaign contributions from in the past. His comments Thursday are "kind of like Ken Lay saying he's going to propose new fixes to the energy system next year," he said.

"Gov. Schwarzenegger raised more money from special interests than anyone in the history of the state," Heller said. "But if the governor is serious, there's a lot to be done. Start by stop accepting contributions from these big businesses for whom he is signing and vetoing legislation. Gov. Schwarzenegger's political practices over the course of the year give us all plenty of things to work on."
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E-mail John Hubbell at jhubbell@sfchronicle.com




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