Neither radical nor bizarre

The outcry around the governor’s appointment of Democrat Susan Kennedy makes no sense

Amid the outcry over Arnold’s appointment of Democratic big cheese Susan Kennedy as his chief of staff, it’s easy to miss the most important thing Kennedy says in her own defense: She voted for all of Arnold’s reform measures in the November 8 special election.

Kennedy is a pro-business social liberal (sound familiar, like the guv, perhaps?) who is enough of a centrist to break with her own party over the special-election issues. Yet, her appointment by Arnold has sent the pundits and Republican Party into a terrible tizzy. I have seen the words “bizarre” (Wall Street Journal) and “radical” (Los Angeles Times) applied to Schwarzenegger’s appointment of Kennedy, as if he’s announced that he’s just appointed Bugs Bunny as chief of staff.

Truth is, the Republicans could do far worse than having a Republican governor choose a Democratic chief of staff like Kennedy.

She’s a sensible pragmatic—not what the pundits are saying—and the proof of this can be found in how she behaved during the special election. While California’s mostly Democratic voters emotionally went against their own interests to punish Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kennedy kept a clear head. She bucked her party’s hysterics and voted for the wise reforms.

This means that Kennedy voted to roll back the ridiculous teacher tenure that protects green teachers who’ve had just two years in a classroom, and she voted to require unions to make sure they have permission before spending workers’ dues on political battles with which they may disagree, and she backed the effort to end corrupt political gerrymandering in California.

A lesbian, Kennedy is clearly not the sort of cookie-cutter lefty lesbian so typical in Sacramento, like bossy loudmouths Jackie Goldberg and Carole Migden. Yet, all the Republicans can talk about right now is how Kennedy is a hardcore Democratic partisan and was part of a dirty-tricks team that defeated GOP candidate Bruce Herschensohn when he ran for U.S. Senate against Barbara Boxer.

Ho hum. To be clear, Herschensohn’s campaign imploded when operatives in the Democratic Party outed him for attending girlie strip shows. There’s never been a shred of evidence that Susan Kennedy was involved in that character assassination.

Moreover, if the Republicans whining about that outing incident today had enough dirt to similarly ruin a Democratic candidate for office, they’d do so in one hot minute. What hypocrites.

Nor do I have any patience with the guilt-by-association sliming of Kennedy in the last few days. The media have been implying that because Kennedy was at one time Governor Gray Davis’ deputy chief of staff, she must be utterly incompetent on some level.

Kennedy used a politically balanced approach under Davis. Hers was not the only standout work done by serious staffers even as the disastrous Davis bumbled along. For example, Kerry Mazzoni, Davis’ education secretary, went up against the intellectually corrupt California Teachers Association to help Gray Davis push through dramatic school reforms—his one great achievement as governor.

Mazzoni is proof that even under a governor as bad as Davis, a lot of talented people were trying to fix California. Kennedy was among them.

Yet, from the coverage so far, it seems many in the media—as well as in the GOP—have already decided that only losers and fools worked for Davis. How incredibly childish.

Using the same reasoning being applied by the “Oh my God, Susan Kennedy worked for Gray Davis!” crowd, let’s see who else Kennedy worked for. Well, she worked for Di-Fi (U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein). That’s proof of the exact opposite. I could easily argue that Kennedy’s hiring by Di-Fi, one of the sharpest senators around, proves that Kennedy is pretty great.

It all makes my head hurt. The media, and the governor’s own GOP, don’t seem to grasp that Kennedy’s appointment is not radical and not bizarre. It’s the logical next step for a governor who has aggressively appointed Democratic honchos to hundreds of powerful state jobs and judgeships that he controls.

I have, in my files, more than 500 press releases detailing whom Schwarzenegger has appointed to what since January 2004. Roughly speaking, his ratio of appointing Democrats vs. Republicans is about 2:3. Schwarzenegger’s consistent appointment of Democrats to major jobs and judgeships is remarkable.

And the guy doesn’t even crow about it.

Just since mid-September, Arnold has appointed Democrats to judgeships around California, to fancy jobs in Sacramento, and to key posts in which he matched expertise with job requirements and ignored party registration.

Everybody knows that the formula Schwarzenegger used this past year has failed miserably. He went partisan, and too Republican. Now he’s returning to his fresh-minded default approach, of mixing the parties together to see what happens.

One thing that happens, and it’s neither bizarre nor radical, is Susan Kennedy.