Jewish Journal

Arnold’s Post-Recall Bridge Building

by Marc Ballon

Posted on Oct. 16, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger has worked quickly to build bridges to the Jewish community and live up to his promise of including people of all races, religions and political views in his administration. Schwarzenegger, who some Jews have viewed with suspicion because of his father's Nazi past and the actor's refusal to spell out in detail his views, has appointed several prominent Jews and other diverse leaders to his 65-member transition team, a move that has garnered widespread praise.

Among those tapped to serve on his advisory group are at least seven Jews: businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad; USC law professor Susan Estrich, also former campaign manager of Michael Dukakis' presidential campaign; Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center; attorney and former state Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg; Bonnie Reiss, former president of Schwarzenegger's Inner-City Games Foundation and founding director of Arnold's All-Stars; Gerald Parsky, President Bush's chief political operative in California; and film director Ivan Reitman. In addition, the millionaire actor has appointed liberal San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina and ex-Secretary of State George Shultz, who served in the Reagan administration.

"I think the balance on his transition team shows he's trying to reach out to everyone," said Lee Alpert, a moderate Republican who held several high positions in former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan's administration. "[Schwarzenegger] realizes that the state's economic problem doesn't affect just one race, religion or one gender. He's started on the right track."

Howard Welinsky, chair of Democrats for Israel and a strong recall opponent, said it's too early to say just how strongly Jews will embrace the governor-elect. At present, Schwarzenegger's "pretty much of a blank slate."

Still, Welinsky said the movie-star-turned-politician has made some good early adviser choices. If Schwarzenegger continues to behave in a nonideological, bipartisan way, he could curry long-standing favor with the community.

A self-described fiscal conservative and social moderate, Schwarzenegger supports abortion and gay rights.

Not everyone is thrilled with the prospect of Schwarzenegger coming to Sacramento. Paul Castro, executive director of Jewish Family Service (JFS), said he worried that the new governor would slash state funding to JFS and other nonprofits that provide counseling, shelter and food to the less fortunate. Given Schwarzenegger's promise to repeal the vehicle tax and balance the budget without raising taxes, except in an emergency, Castro worries the budget ax could fall most heavily on the elderly and poor.

"There's a whole education process that needs to happen to make sure the governor-elect is aware of the types of issues facing our constituents," he said. "The fear is that while he's on the learning curve there could be a dip in the social safety net."

Schwarzenegger's promised moderation could boost the Republican Party's future prospects among Jewish voters, said Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and author of "The Art of Political Warfare."

Conservative politicians pushing an anti-abortion, anti-gay right, "Christian religious" agenda will never excite the Jewish community. But Republicans espousing tolerance, compassion and choice, along with a dollop of fiscal responsibility, can make inroads.

"Jews are going to vote Democratic," Pitney said. "The question is, will it be by a modest majority or an overwhelming majority?"

In the 2002 gubernatorial race, 69 percent of Jewish voters chose Davis, while only 22 percent went for conservative Bill Simon. By contrast, moderate Republican Pete Wilson won 41 percent of the vote in 1994. Schwarzenegger and state Sen. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks, a conservative lauded for his candor and knowledge of the issues, together received 40 percent.

In the recall race, 31 percent of Jewish votes went for Schwarzenegger, a respectable showing considering all the negatives he had to overcome, said Michael Wissot, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition of Southern California. During the campaign, the governor-elect had to fend off allegations that he secretly admired Adolf Hitler and that he shared his deceased father's Nazi beliefs. He also had to explain his relationship with ex-Nazi Kurt Waldheim, the former president of Austria and secretary general of the United Nations under whose leadership the world body passed a controversial resolution equating Zionism with racism.

Schwarzenegger faced his critics head-on, which helped to blunt the sting of their criticism, Wissot said. The actor adamantly denied any fondness for Hitler and publicly disavowed his wedding toast to his former friend Waldheim. With the help of rabbis at the Wiesenthal Center, Schwarzenegger publicized his long-standing ties to the institution. Over the years, he has personally donated $750,000 and raised up to $5 million for the nonprofit.

By neutralizing allegations of anti-Semitism, Schwarzenegger succeeded in highlighting his message of restoring California's fading luster. He has vowed to bring business back to the state, reform worker's compensation and reduce the influence of unions, Native American casino operators and other special-interest groups. Schwarzenegger's self-confidence and poise helped convince some Jews he had the leadership abilities to pull California out of its fiscal abyss, Wissot said.

The Democrats' lurch to the left also scared some Jews into the Republican camp, said Joel Kotkin, senior fellow with the Davenport Institute at Pepperdine University. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, an uninspiring speaker who played to the party's progressive wing, worried some Jews by refusing to take a strong public stand against the more radical ideas espoused by MEChA, a Latino student group to which he once belonged. Current MEChA chapters still use the organization's 1960s symbol of an eagle clutching dynamite.

Bustamante received 52 percent of the Jewish vote. Although better than Schwarzenegger, that tally falls short considering that more than two-thirds of Jews are Democrats.

Transition team member Cooper said Schwarzenegger's showing should send a message to Democrats, especially the party's presidential contenders, not to take the Jewish vote for granted. Cooper said he would like to see the candidates, especially Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, take a more forceful stand on behalf of Israel.

"This is a wake-up call to Democrats in California, New York, Florida" and elsewhere, he said. "Once [Jews] get used to turning the lever the other way ... that can be built on."

Jewish support for Schwarzenegger and McClintock, though, should not be misconstrued as a radical realignment in favor of Republicans. Based on Davis' strong showing in the community, most Jews would have preferred that the colorless-but-familiar governor remain in the state capital and Schwarzenegger stay in Hollywood. With 69 percent of them weighing in against the recall, Jewish voters proved to be one of Davis' few stalwart allies.

Jews mostly remained faithful for several reasons, experts said. Davis' reputation for dirty politics and money mongering notwithstanding, he largely served the interests of the Jewish community, which in turn, filled his coffers.

As governor, Davis visited Israel, signed legislation expanding the definition of hate crimes and helped funnel millions of dollars to the Wiesenthal Center, Zimmer Children's Museum and Skirball Cultural Center.

"He likes the [Jewish] culture. He likes the warmth. He likes the people," said Terri Smooke, special assistant to Davis and his liaison to the Jewish community.

"I hope [Schwarzenegger's] advisers help him make good decisions and to continue to work for tolerance for the good of all Californians," said Smooke, who, like Davis, will soon be out of a job.

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