Arnold Schwarzenegger sought mightily to add some policy heft to his bid for governor on Wednesday, but in doing so he also sent out some mixed messages.
At his first press conference, he surrounded himself with former U.S. secretary of state George Shultz and investment guru Warren Buffett and promised not to raise taxes.
And he also made it clear that his campaign would not be all showbiz. Rob Lowe, he emphasized, was a “very good friend” but not an adviser. And contrary to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Creative Artists Agency, which represents Schwarzenegger as an actor, would have no formal role at all in the campaign.
There were also hints Wednesday that the Schwarzenegger campaign had been rushed in organizing the event. Not only did a list of members of the Economic Recovery Council misspell Buffett’s name (with only one “t”), it also misspelled Schwarzenegger (without a “z”).
Asked to comment on a report that he had asked CAA to drum up Hollywood support, Schwarzenegger said the agency “offered to have celebrities go out and support me and hold fund-raisers.”
CAA partners Richard Lovett and Bryan Lourd, however, released a statement making it clear that while employees are free to work on behalf of any candidate, the company itself has not endorsed Schwarzenegger’s campaign.
“We are a company of 572 individuals, and as professionals we are representatives of many clients all of whom have individual political views; it would, therefore, be inappropriate for us to endorse candidates,” the duo said.
“While we are active personal participants and supporters of and in the political process, we have too much respect for those individual political views to issue a companywide endorsement.”
With Shultz standing on his right and Buffett on his left (“not coincidental,” Schwarzenegger said), the candidate pitched himself as a leader who would make the right economic policy choices after seeking the advice of business and academic experts.
“Before the carping begins about the need for a 25-point plan on each of those items, let me make this clear: These problems were not created in two weeks nor will we be able to solve them in two weeks.”
He added, “Anyone out there who is telling the people of California otherwise is just a typical politician.”
Schwarzenegger’s remarks came after the inaugural meeting of the California Economic Recovery Council, a group he formed to advise him on economic policy. Co-chaired by Buffett and Shultz, the 19-member group includes state Assembly members, business execs and economic professors.
One of the key hurdles in tackling the state’s problems, Schwarzenegger said, was getting sound information on the state budget.
“No one, not even the economic and academic leaders, could make heads or tails of the state’s budget,” he said. “One thing I have learned in business is that you cannot make sound decisions based on faulty information.”
To that end he pledged that if elected he would hire an independent firm to conduct a 60-day audit of the state’s budget and identify areas to cut spending.
He reiterated his support for Proposition 13 and his opposition to raising property taxes, a suggestion made by Buffett in a Wall Street Journal interview. “I told Warren if he mentioned Proposition 13 one more time, he has to do 500 sit-ups,” Schwarzenegger said.
He also blamed the current fiscal crisis on budget mismanagement by elected officials. “Don’t spend more money than you have. That’s what I teach my 6-year-old, and that’s what I’ll teach Sacramento.”
But Schwarzenegger said he wouldn’t raise taxes to balance the budget. “Does this mean I am willing to raise taxes? No. Additional taxes are the last burden we need to put on the back of the citizens and businesses of California.”
The emphasis on economic matters came as Schwarzenegger sought to play down his Hollywood connections. Despite previous campaign statements that the former “West Wing” co-star Rob Lowe would be a “celebrity coordinator” for Schwarzenegger, yesterday the candidate said of Lowe, “He is not a senior adviser, nor is he an adviser. Rob Lowe is a very good friend.”
For the most part, Schwarzenegger did not address his acting career (although he did greet the 200 or so gathered journalists by saying, “I would have liked to have this kind of turnout for ‘Last Action Hero.’ “) and staked out some policy ground.
As the hourlong conference drew to a close, with reporters still clamoring to ask more questions, Schwarzenegger assured them that this wouldn’t be his only press conference. “I will be seeing you from now until Oct. 7,” he said. And skipping an opportunity to use one of his signature catch phrases, he added simply, “Don’t think I’m going anywhere.”