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The San Francisco Chronicle
May 22, 2005 - 01:00 AM

by Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Political Writer

Beatty kicks up political dust at Cal

Academy Award-winning actor-director Warren Beatty delivered a devastating critique of Arnold Schwarzenegger at a UC Berkeley commencement Saturday, and refused to rule out a Democratic run for governor -- saying that he would "think about it" if Schwarzenegger continues to endorse "a totally unnecessary special election."

"I don't think it's smart to rule anything out in life," Beatty, 68, told reporters following a commencement address to the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy.

During his speech, Beatty lambasted the GOP governor for "bullying labor and the little guys" such as California nurses and teachers while embracing "the reactionary right wing" in pursuit of his agenda.

Beatty told 80 graduates, their families, and hundreds of others who gathered on the campus lawn to hear him, that while he "didn't want to" run for governor, "I'd do a hell of a lot better job than he's done."

The governor's office immediately dismissed Beatty's speech as inconsequential.

"Warren Beatty is a crackpot. I don't know why anyone would care what he says," said Rob Stutzman, communications director for Schwarzenegger. "I'd like to see him give that speech in Orange County instead of Berkeley."

Beatty, who has starred in and/or directed such films as "Reds," "Bulworth" and "Shampoo," publicly chastised Schwarzenegger for choosing "bombastic marketing" over serious public policy, saying the former actor has tacked so far to the right, he no longer resembles the man who ran for the office in the first place.

"We are not the governor's dumbbells," Beatty said to applause and laughter. "It's not fooling anybody for him to be running around raising money... from rich Republicans all over the country who hope that they can get this reactionary stuff started in California."

He then asked why the state needs "a totally unnecessary $70 million extra election in November, when we're going to have another one anyway in June. That's nothing but a strategy to distract attention from the failure to deal honestly with the budget."'

"It's become time to define a Schwarzenegger Republican," Beatty said. "A Schwarzenegger Republican is a Bush Republican who says he's a Schwarzenegger Republican."

While the governor's office dismissed Beatty, Michael Nacht, the dean of the influential public policy school, said the actor was chosen for the honor of the address because of his credentials, which included being a founding member of the Progressive Majority and the Center for National Policy, a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a longtime activist in Democratic politics who has worked for a candidate in every presidential election since he worked for Robert Kennedy's campaign in 1968.

"We were thrilled" that he accepted, said Nacht, who noted that other commencement speakers have included Condoleezza Rice. "He's very well informed, and he has a platform to speak his mind."

The address -- which was alternately thoughtful, tough and tinged with humor -- was met with a standing ovation from the audience, including former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, former California Senate Pro Tem John Burton and Beatty's Academy Award-nominated wife, actress Annette Bening.

"He was great," said Bening, surrounded by the couple's four children, who sat in the front row to watch their father. "He said what a lot of people feel, and he took the opportunity to say it well."

The tough words from Beatty come as the governor is outside the state -- this weekend in Florida, Texas and Illinois -- attempting to raise millions from GOP loyalists like Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens for a special election which looks increasingly likely in November.

Beatty's outright dismissal of the special election -- and his threat to continue to pound the governor on his agenda -- is the first aggressive challenge by a visible and politically active member of the entertainment community, which has to date been reluctant to take on a fellow actor.

"Warren's got this great celebrity and he can bring attention to the concerns that he expresses. That's very valuable," said Burton, a longtime friend of Beatty. "The man says what he thinks. I would think the people of California need to hear more of it."

The Democratic actor's threat to speak out -- and take a more public role -- could have an impact in state politics, though probably not until the 2006 Democratic primary race for governor, said Hoover Institution research fellow Bill Whelan, a former adviser to GOP Gov. Pete Wilson.

"There's the potential for a third (candidate) to slip in, especially if the choices are (State Controller) Steve Westley and (State Treasurer) Phil Angelides," Whalen said. "You can argue there are two flawed candidates, and they are elected officials. Each one is quite vulnerable; Westley looks like an opportunist and Angelides doesn't excite Democrats."

That may open the field to "a nontraditional outsider" who can seize on the same message Schwarzenegger has used: "I'm not from Sacramento."

Still, he suggested, "If you look at your cable listing every night, you see a Schwarzenegger flick. How many 18- to 35-year-olds are familiar with Beatty's body of work?"

But Doug Heller, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights -- a watchdog group that sponsors the ArnoldWatch Web site -- says that Beatty has credentials with Democrats because of a lifetime of activism in the party.

"He is different from most Hollywood politically vocal folks, in that he is not a flash in the pan," Heller says of Beatty. "He has been paying attention to politics for a long time, doing this stuff since the 1960s. He's got credentials, and he's an incredibly thoughtful guy."

"He does care about where our government is going and what it's doing. He's not frivolous."

Beatty, who spoke by phone with the Chronicle's Matier and Ross on Friday as he prepared his speech, stressed that "I like what I'm doing with my life right now."

But, he added, "I don't think it's ever smart to predict how interested you will ever get (in running) because you don't want to pre-empt yourself from anything."

It is particularly important, he continued, for someone who has "the capacity to put some words together" and "the capacity to contribute. Certainly, I've been around it longer than Arnold... and this is my home state."

Beatty commented on the two Democrats who have already jumped into the governor's race, saying, "I think Phil is terrific, I think Steve is terrific," and added that there are "quite a number" of Democrats who would improve on Schwarzenegger's record.

"I don't think Democrats are going to need a famous movie actor," he said.

But on Saturday, asked what he would do if party leaders pressed him to run, Beatty smiled and said:

"I would think about it."
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E-mail Carla Marinucci at cmarinucci@sfchronicle.com




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