Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Schwarzenegger flexes for top GOP donors here

Schwarzenegger flexes for top GOP donors here

May 24, 2005

BY SCOTT FORNEK Political Reporter

The Terminator came to Chicago Monday, but he acted more like the Invisible Man.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was here to raise money for an organization he formed to push a package of ballot initiatives in his home state -- and Republican donors were the only ones that got more than a glimpse of him.

The movie star-turned politician went to great lengths to avoid a group of protesters, a handful of reporters and a few fans looking for autographs outside his fund-raiser at the Chicago Hilton and Towers.

"Dude, a little over-aggressive!" one fan griped after Schwarzenegger's handlers hustled the Republican governor out a side door, past onlookers and into a Ford Explorer after the event.

Reporters were not allowed to listen to the speech Schwarzenegger delivered or stand in any of the hotel hallways nearby to wait for him to come out.

Inside the event, the California Republican was no shrinking violet, according to those in attendance.

"He was very direct and very forthright," said Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica, who is running for Cook County Board president. "He didn't mince words about the problems and the solutions that are necessary."

Funds for California issues

The luncheon was held to help fund the California Recovery Team, which is supporting efforts to give the California governor more power over state budget cuts, revamp state pensions, change how the Golden State draws its legislative districts and other measures.

"He essentially said, 'Look, if we accomplish this task in California, there are 49 other states that are looking at our success," said state Sen. Peter Roskam, a Wheaton Republican running for Congress.

"He's a national guy. He's larger than life politically. And you know, California is the big state in the union politically. So the elements are there to have a . . . a very significant ripple effect."

Those ripples have Schwarzenegger's detractors worried.

Outside, about a dozen Illinois nurses protested to show solidarity with their California counterparts, who are upset that Schwarzenegger is trying to make it easier for hospitals to use fewer nurses for more patients. They say he is also trying to privatize nurses' pensions and is beholden to drug companies, hospitals and insurance companies.

"Arnold, Arnold! You can't hide! We can see your corporate side!" they chanted.

Illinois Republicans like him

At one point a Cessna airplane flew overhead trailing a banner reading, "Arnold. Don't Sell CA to Big Business."

"We call it 'Air Arnold' because, of course, we're taking on a very popular figure, and we need all means to do so -- including an Air Force," said Michael Lighty, director of public policy for the California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee.

Republican bigwigs at the event shrugged off the dissent outside.

"Gov. Schwarzenegger has a lot of admirers around the country for what he's done with his victory in California, what he's done with the administration so far in California," said former Gov. Jim Thompson.

Former Gov. Jim Edgar said: "You don't undo the financial mess they had overnight. It takes time, and I think he's working on some long-term solutions. So I applaud him for that."

Some of the potential Republican gubernatorial hopefuls attended, trying to get some of Schwarzenegger's star power to rub off on them.

"He's brought a breath of fresh air," said dairy owner Jim Oberweis, who announced his candidacy last month. "It's clear that nobody's going to be able to influence him with dollars, and I don't think anyone's going to influence me with dollars."

DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett, who is exploring a run for governor, said "we want to follow the lead of Gov. Schwarzenegger here in the state of Illinois.

"He works," Birkett said. "He puts the people's business first. And that's certainly a style that I would, not only emulate, but that's a style I live by."

Copyright © The Sun-Times Company

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