Gov.'s Allies Upset at Enemy Within Republicans say too many people outside the party are being appointed to offices. By Robert Salladay, Times Staff Writer April 14, 2006 SACRAMENTO — Few people have worked harder than Joe Nuñez to sabotage Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's political fortunes. A high-ranking teachers union official, he helped engineer the governor's embarrassing defeat in the special election last year. So to Republicans, it was nothing short of infuriating and confounding that Schwarzenegger would appoint Nuñez to the state Board of Education. He handed a Democrat and avowed enemy one of the most prestigious patronage jobs in government. On his application to the governor's office, Nuñez was asked if he had done anything that might embarrass the administration, a standard question on such forms. He wrote: chairman, Alliance for a Better California, the union-funded group that led the fight against Schwarzenegger last year. Yet the appointment was not just another example of Schwarzenegger's keeping his friends close and his enemies closer. After more than two years in office, Schwarzenegger has flummoxed the political establishment — particularly Republicans — by making dozens of appointments from outside his own party. Among all Schwarzenegger appointees to state government jobs, regulatory boards and commissions — more than 2,000 in all — about 54% have been Republicans. The rest are Democrats and independents, with a handful from minor political parties. The reappointment of Nuñez, who first joined the board under Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, was so startling that former Senate leader John Burton, who knows the governor well, refused to believe it when first told. Jon Fleischman, a Republican activist who runs a politics website, said dismissively: "My kindergarten teacher would be a better appointee to the state Board of Education than Joe Nuñez … and I don't even know how she was registered." The appointment is another example, Fleischman said, of Schwarzenegger's turning away from the GOP, which could dampen the enthusiasm of party activists during the November election. With Democrats fired up about unseating Schwarzenegger, he said, "a vibrant Republican turnout is essential to the governor getting elected." Although much of his campaign staff and inner circle are Republican, Democrats and independents fill the highest ranks of government as well. They include some of the most influential: Schwarzenegger's chief of staff Susan Kennedy and close advisor Bonnie Reiss. A majority of his appointees to the Air Resources Board, considered one of the most powerful anti-pollution boards in the country, are Democrats, for example. On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger announced the appointment of Debra Farar, a Democrat and appointee of Davis, to the Cal State University Board of Trustees. Farar was an education advisor to Davis when he was lieutenant governor. For months, the ire of Republican activists has focused on Schwarzenegger's judicial appointments. Nearly 50% of the governor's picks for the bench have been Democrats or independents. Past governors have drawn far more heavily from their own parties to fill the bench and the hundreds of other jobs throughout the bureaucracies. Steve Frank, another GOP activist, said Schwarzenegger has given several speeches highlighting his proud membership in the Republican Party, including the keynote address at the 2004 National Convention, and "we would expect him to put into action the values he spoke about." Frank singled out Teresa A. Bennett, a Democrat the governor appointed in January to the San Bernardino County Superior Court bench. A former public defender, she represented clients facing the death penalty, including a man convicted of raping and killing a 9-year-old girl. She first applied to be a judge under Davis, a Democrat, but he passed. Schwarzenegger ran for election in 2003 on an agenda that was not considered entirely Republican. But Frank said voters expect a Republican governor to appoint judges "who are strong on public safety, that protect the victim rather than the perpetrator and interpret the law without any creativity, without any agenda." In an interview, Bennett said she tries to be nonpolitical. When it comes to death penalty cases, she said, she would "follow the law, whatever the law is in those cases." She described her defense work in death penalty cases as part of the adversarial relationship that is required of the job. Bennett said she was somewhat taken aback by the appointment this year, "not so much by Gov. Schwarzenegger, since he does a lot of things that don't seem to be typical. But I was surprised to get the call, because it didn't happen under the Davis administration." At a recent press briefing, Schwarzenegger said he doesn't think about a person's party affiliation when making appointments. In Nuñez's case, he said, political differences "are not why I appoint people to the board. I want to hear a variety of different opinions on how to solve our education problems." Nuñez, who joined the board in 2001, attributed his reappointment to "politics makes strange bedfellows" and to Schwarzenegger's desire to see a teacher with knowledge of state education policy remain. "There would be a loss of institutional knowledge," he said. The governor, however, also acknowledged that Nuñez's appointment was designed in part to thaw the frigid relationship with the powerful teachers union. It was, he said, "a gesture of, hey, we can work together even though we don't agree on everything." Nuñez was expected to leave the board this year. But Schwarzenegger's appointment, if confirmed by two-thirds of the Senate, would secure his job on the panel until 2010. With all of its members appointed by Schwarzenegger, the board has a majority of Democrats — five in all with three Republicans, one independent, one vacancy and a student too young to register to vote. When all four of Schwarzenegger's initiatives were voted down last year, Nuñez celebrated. As chairman of the Alliance for a Better California, he helped the union group direct close to $80 million to kill the initiatives. Nuñez is also assistant executive director for the California Teachers Assn., which has endorsed state treasurer Phil Angelides, a Democrat, for governor. This year, Schwarzenegger must negotiate with the powerful union on school spending in the state budget and a proposed infrastructure bond measure that would be put before voters in November. It could include billions for new school construction. Margita Thompson, spokeswoman for the governor, and union President Barbara Kerr said there was no agreement with Schwarzenegger to soften its position in exchange for Nuñez's reappointment. Kerr, who personally lobbied the governor to retain Nuñez during a private meeting in December, said: "I am sure you can look it as being odd, but there is nothing really behind it except he was a good choice." The appointment, in fact, did little to soften the political bickering. A day after Schwarzenegger announced Nuñez's appointment, the Alliance for a Better California filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission seeking sanctions against the governor. An appeals court ruled last week that the governor's California Recovery Team failed to report independent expenditures on time. In a press release announcing the action, Nuñez chastised the governor's campaign for "egregious violations of the law." His group is asking for $25 million in fines against Schwarzenegger.