Politics

Easy Enforcer

Terry Tamminen brings a Southern California mellowness to the un- mellow job of reorganizing state government.
by | February 2005

California's jabbering classes expect this to be Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's make-or-break year, the one in which he sets about delivering on his promises to shake state government to its core. Having spent his first year settling in after storming to power in 2003, Schwarzenegger a few weeks ago laid out an ambitious plan to confront a host of entrenched powers in Sacramento, from the teachers' union to public employees to the state legislature itself.

Much attention in upcoming months will turn to Schwarzenegger's controversial goal of reforming the way legislative and congressional districts are drawn. But two other pieces of the governor's agenda-- folding 88 state boards and commissions and eliminating the traditional pension plan for state employees--are likely to be just as politically fraught, especially within the state bureaucracy.

So you'd think that as he moves forward, the "Governator" would want at his right hand someone who can bang heads with the best of them. Instead, he has Terry Tamminen: one-time actor, former swimming pool cleaner, environmental activist and generally nice guy. "He is exceptionally bright, very articulate, has a great sense of humor and has excellent people skills," says Fran Pavley, a Democratic member of the state Assembly who is a friend of Tamminen's. "He can also quote Shakespeare at the drop of a hat."

Tamminen, 52, is Schwarzenegger's new cabinet secretary, a post that places him in charge of making sure that the governor's ideas are obeyed down through the ranks of state agencies and departments. California's bureaucracy is not especially known for its re- sponsiveness to "the horseshoe," as the governor's offices are called, and the cabinet secretary has traditionally been expected to shun the subtle arts of persuasion for a more raw-meat approach.

This is not, however, the quality that landed Tamminen his current post. After a peripatetic life that had him, at various times, running a sheep ranch in Florida, working as a part-time Shakespearean actor and running a Malibu pool-cleaning business with an extensive clientele of movie stars, Tamminen in the 1990s set himself up as the Santa Monica Bay's "baykeeper," monitoring pollution and alerting state agencies to environmental violations. He became known within the environmental community for his knowledge of water and energy issues, and grew close to national environmental leader Robert F. Kennedy Jr.- -cousin of Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver. When Schwarzenegger decided to run for governor, Kennedy encouraged the newly minted politician to meet with Tamminen. "Terry has a very positive, forward- thinking attitude and a great sense of vision," Pavley says. "He also knows the issues cold." Obviously, the combination appealed to Schwarzenegger, because he made Tamminen--a confirmed Democrat and environmentalist--his environmental secretary.

Tamminen's ability to relate easily to people across ideological and partisan lines will come in handy in his new job. "The consolidation of boards and commissions--that always is hard because every government organization has its own constituency, people who are used to dealing with it," says Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College.

At least Schwarzenegger spared Tamminen even heavier lifting. Among the commissions that a state government review last year recommended abolishing were several of California's most prominent environmental regulatory agencies. Whether it was partly Tamminen's influence or simply common sense, they are now slated to remain in existence. "Even an ambitious agenda has its limits," says Pitney. "This year is already going to be Smack Down. That would have been World War I."

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Rob Gurwitt  |  Former Correspondent
robg@valley.net  | 

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