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San Jose Mercury News (California)

Schwarzenegger back on the job;


by Laura Kurtzman and Ann E. Marimow
September 3, 2004

NEW YORK -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger flew home to California on Thursday before President Bush's acceptance speech to sign or veto roughly a thousand bills waiting on his desk.

Schwarzenegger said he might campaign for President Bush in Ohio, a swing state where he sponsors an annual bodybuilding tournament, but his focus will remain on California. ''It is extremely important for me to stay in California and do my job,'' he said.

The governor will pick up his pen after having been feted at the Republican National Convention by more than a dozen companies and industry groups that have interests in some of those very bills awaiting his signature, including measures that affect off-shoring, the importation of prescription drugs from Canada and California's minimum wage.

Schwarzenegger insisted he won't be influenced by parties he attended at the Central Park Boathouse, the Ritz Carlton and Planet Hollywood, a chain restaurant he once invested in.

''Nobody asked me for a favor, and this is going to have no effect on me whatsoever,'' he said at a news conference Thursday in a screening room at Planet Hollywood in Times Square. ''I will be making those decisions based on what I think is best for California.''

But the parties, organized by the California Chamber of Commerce, are one more way the governor has become intertwined with special interests in Sacramento, undercutting his pledge in the recall to ''clean house'' in Sacramento. The chamber raised the money for the events through a separate committee.

Critics say they will be watching to see how the sponsors fare as Schwarzenegger makes his way through the bills.

''If he consistently stands by his corporate donors, it will be utterly clear that Schwarzenegger is no different from Gray Davis and is playing the same game of special-interest governing that frustrates Californians more than his celebrity can enliven us,'' said Doug Heller of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, one of the governor's toughest critics.

The chamber of commerce raised at least $300,000 from 19 businesses -- including pharmaceuticals, entertainment, telecommunications and oil -- to foot the bill for the parties. The Associated Press reported Thursday that one of the companies, ChevronTexaco, used an array of lobbyists, attorneys and trade groups to gain favorable treatment in Schwarzenegger's ambitious plan to reorganize state government. Chevron also has donated more than $200,000 to his committees and $500,000 to the California Republican Party.

The governor's travel was paid by the California Republican Party.

Schwarzenegger's press secretary, Margita Thompson, said it was done that way to save taxpayers' money. She said the parties were innocent. ''No political issues are discussed there,'' she said. ''He's not lobbied at these events.''

But the governor is fully aware of the chamber's priorities, especially the so-called ''job-killer'' bills it wants him to veto. They include a package of bills that would stop the state from sending government services and jobs overseas.

The chamber also opposes a measure by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-San Jose, to raise California's minimum wage to $7.75 by 2006. Schwarzenegger has refused to take campaign contributions from labor unions, which support the effort.

Another series of bills on the governor's desk would increase access to prescription drugs from Canada, which are cheaper than those in the United States. Pharmaceutical firms oppose the concept because they say they'll lose money they need to support research on new drugs. The companies also say it will be hard to guarantee the safety of imported drugs.

Abbott Laboratories and Pfizer both donated money for convention parties with Schwarzenegger, who has raised $340,000 from the pharmaceutical industry since taking office, according to an analysis by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Schwarzenegger said he supports the idea of cheaper drugs but not the bills. Schwarzenegger said he hopes to use them as bargaining chips with the pharmaceutical industry.

''It's good to have the bill so now I can go to the drug companies and say, 'Hey, guys, we can sign this bill or you guys come to the table and negotiate. I want you to come down with the prices.' '' He added, ''I will not be representing the drug companies; I will be representing the people.''
Contact Laura Kurtzman at [email protected]