Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) on Wednesday took the first step to shaking up his administration after his resounding special election failure, appointing a longtime Democratic activist as his chief of staff.
The move to replace Patricia Clarey had been widely expected since voters defeated all four of the governor's "year of reform" measures Nov. 8. Clarey was campaign manager for the effort.
But the announcement of state Public Utilities Commissioner Susan Kennedy as Clarey's replacement caught many Republicans and Democrats off guard.
Kennedy, 45, was Cabinet secretary to then-Gov. Gray Davis (D), who was ousted in the 2003 recall election that brought Schwarzenegger to power. She is also a former director of an abortion rights group and one of the highest-profile gay politicians in the state, making her appointment a risky one for the Republican governor.
"She's a woman that is known as being a hardworking woman, dedicated, and is willing to work whatever it takes to get the job done," Schwarzenegger said at a news conference. "She's willing to set her Democratic philosophy aside and do the job and do my vision -- to be able to work together with Democrats and Republicans."
Kennedy's appointment could help regain the support of Democrats and independents the governor lost over the past year, but it also jeopardizes his standing among conservatives, his only reliable supporters.
"This makes Schwarzenegger a man without a country," said GOP strategist Dave Gilliard, who helped run the campaign to recall Davis. "The Democrats will never accept him or embrace him, and now he's breaking with his base. I don't understand it."
Even some leading Democrats appeared puzzled by the appointment.
"Any move by the governor to embrace Democratic values is good news for the state," said Steve Maviglio, spokesman for Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. "However, it leaves many Democrats, as well as Republicans, wondering if he has any core values at all."
Kennedy sought to play down the partisan labels.
"I believe in this man, and I believe in what he's trying to do for this state and where he's trying to take California," she said. "I think a moderate Democrat and a moderate Republican -- there is not a lot of light between us."