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San Jose Mercury News (California)

Health executive to be chief of staff for Schwarzenegger

by Mary Anne Ostrom and Ann E. Marimow
October 23, 2003

SACRAMENTO -- Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday picked former Pete Wilson aide and health care executive Patricia Clarey to be his chief of staff.

In that role, Clarey, known as a no-nonsense, loyal staffer, is poised to become one of the Capitol's most influential people as she helps steer the governor's daily agenda, advises him on policy and appointments and sets the tone for the administration's inner workings.

Although she has worked the past five years for health-maintenance organization Health Net and Transamerica Life Insurance Co., Clarey, 50, has spent most of her career working for Republican administrations in Sacramento and Washington. She was a deputy chief of staff under Wilson, and before that held positions at the U.S. Department of the Interior under both
President Reagan and the first President Bush.

Most recently, she served as vice president for governmental affairs for Health Net, raising fears among some consumer advocates that patients' rights could be harmed.

Republicans and Democrats who know Clarey praised her as a pragmatic executive who is more likely to get into a debate over policy than politics. She joined Schwarzenegger as deputy campaign manager, working for her former boss Bob White, Wilson's ex-chief of staff.

As Schwarzenegger made his first rounds of the Capitol as governor-elect, he said he had been working with Clarey for 10 weeks, and chose her because ''she is very patient, very powerful and strong, and very experienced and totally trustworthy.''

Clarey's appointment was backed by several former Wilson staffers and female transition team members who lobbied heavily for her.

Those close to the Schwarzenegger transition team said Clarey's insider Sacramento knowledge combined with her business experience made her a good choice for a neophyte politician like Schwarzenegger, who is expected to spend much of his time promoting his ideas instead of on the daily chores of running the governor's office.

Democrats who have worked with Clarey described her as a straight shooter.

''She is not easily ruffled, which is essential in that job with all the unforeseen crises that come up daily,'' said Daniel Zingale, Cabinet secretary for Gov. Gray Davis.

''I've been bowling in Inner Mongolia with Pat Clarey. I never thought I'd say that about a Republican chief of staff,'' said Assemblyman Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who traveled to China with Clarey a few years ago and said she respects others' points of view.

State Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, said Clarey is not afraid to speak her mind, ''even about Republicans she didn't like.''

But some consumer advocates are worried about her HMO ties. Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights said, ''An HMO lobbyist does not deserve to be a leading part of an administration that has pledged to stand up to special interests.''

Of Clarey's relationship to Health Net, Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman said: ''There are personal relationships I imagine she wouldn't sever. Whether the chief of staff will be directly lobbied would be a policy that is still yet to be established.''