Copyright 2004, Sacramento Bee
Calendar release is good, but not enough
By Daniel Weintraub
(Sacramento Bee 12/26/04) — The most frustrating thing about Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor is how often he promises to be revolutionary and instead turns out to be, if not ordinary, certainly not the mold-breaking force he has the potential to become. Time after time he feints toward the radical, only to pull back at the last minute.
The latest example is his release of edited versions of his schedule as governor. During the campaign, this was part of Schwarzenegger’s promise to open government to “the people.” He pledged to mimic Florida, where almost everything the government does is open to inspection, in something close to real time.
In his first year in office, Schwarzenegger did not live up to that pledge. He held secret meetings to cut deals with powerful interest groups, sometimes pushing the result through the Legislature in the middle of the night. He failed to introduce legislation that would open more records to the public, then refused to set an example on his own, saying that he shouldn’t be expected to be more open than other elected officials.
Schwarzenegger did support Proposition 59 on the Nov. 2 ballot, a broadly written constitutional amendment designed to shift the burden to the government to prove why a document should be secret, rather than the public having to show why something should be released.
As soon as the measure passed, the governor was challenged by the California First Amendment Coalition, which sent him a request for daily calendars showing with whom he has met since he took office last year.
Schwarzenegger chose to comply, at least in part. Last week he released 350 pages of calendars that had previously been private. His office says he is the first California governor to do so.
The calendars reveal some mild surprises. By my count, he met about as often with labor leaders as he did with corporate chieftains. He had a lot of meetings with foreign dignitaries, and he spent more time than I would have thought discussing with his legal adviser whether to parole inmates from state prisons. He also did plenty of media interviews, though most were with talk radio and more than a few were with publications as interested in his personal life as his policies. He scheduled three photo shoots and an interview with Vanity Fair for a long article that is currently on newsstands.
Schwarzenegger made time for the chairmen or chief executives of Wal-Mart and Target, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric Co., SBC, Verizon, Bank of America, Longs Drugs, Ford Motor Co. and others. He met with hospital officials shortly before deciding to postpone full implementation of state-mandated nurse-patient ratios that the hospitals opposed.
On Jan. 13, he was scheduled to meet with Stanley Zax, president of Zenith Insurance Co., presumably to talk about reducing costs in the workers’ compensation system for people injured on the job. Two days later Zax sent a check for $100,000 to one of Schwarzenegger’s campaign committees. But the governor also met on Jan. 13 with two top officials of the California Labor Federation, who had a strong interest in the same issue.
This is valuable information. The public has a right to know with whom their governor is meeting and how he spends his time. Every decision should ultimately be judged on its merits, but it is helpful to know the context, and to see whether a governor is being shielded from or exposed to competing points of view.
These calendars, though, are an incomplete picture of the governor’s contacts. For one thing, they show only what was scheduled a day or more ahead of time, leaving off any meeting that might have come up during the course of a day. The governor’s office also deleted meetings with his political advisers, arguing that these were “personal time” and not state business.
And the calendar entries are often vague, showing the topic of a meeting and the name of one staff member present, but not a full list of private interests who might have participated. He met with “workers compensation stakeholders” one day, for example, and with “transportation stakeholders” another, but the calendars don’t say who was included in those groups.
Contrast that with Florida, the model Schwarzenegger once promised to follow. There, Gov. Jeb Bush publishes his full daily schedule on the Internet and sends regular updates to the reporters who cover his administration.
Jennifer Grice, an assistant in Bush’s press office, said, for example, that she would e-mail reporters if a state representative arranged at midday a meeting with the governor that had not been on the calendar. The notification would include the time and location of the meeting. All of Bush’s phone logs, letters and e-mails are also public information.
The result is not always pleasant for Bush. A couple of years ago, a newspaper revealed that the governor had met with Enron Corp. executives, even though he said he had not. And the Los Angeles Times, using Bush’s phone logs, did a story retracing the governor’s steps after the November 2000 presidential election, showing that he had far more contact with his brother and his brother’s political team than he had let on.
Schwarzenegger and his aides seem to be wary of such political minefields and are trying to be more open while still preserving a measure of secrecy. They want to have it both ways.
So credit the governor with taking the first step toward fulfilling his pledge. But he is still being far too cautious. And he is well short of achieving the kind of dramatic change he promised when he was running to be the “people’s governor.”