June 15, 2006
The Coming of Arnold
There was great good cheer throughout the Samoa Cookhouse early Wednesday morning, even though it was packed to double or even triple capacity long before the guest of honor was scheduled to arrive, even though many in the crowd had stayed up past midnight waiting for late election returns.
Those who hadn't stayed up had heard the news that morning, and there was lots of head-shaking in the crowd. Paul Gallegos was reelected as district attorney. Supervisor Bonnie Neely, the only local Republican ever fêted by the left, ended the evening with a strong plurality going into the November run-off. Measure T, a local reform initiative aimed at banning non-local corporations from contributing to political campaigns, was an overwhelming winner. The subject was painful; some talked instead of positive Republican results in Mendocino or Del Norte counties.
But the Cookhouse's French toast, scrambled eggs and thin coffee had their effect, and the overall mood was buoyant. More to the point: Arnold was coming! It was 7:30 a.m., and he was due to arrive any minute now! The 300 or so souls packed into the Cookhouse, among them the most prominent names in Humboldt County business and government, rejoiced. It was the day after the primary, the gubernatorial campaign was about to begin in earnest, and where did The Governator choose to make his first stump speech? Why, right here with his friends in Humboldt County! Surely that counted for something.
And it counted for something, too, amongst the 30 or so protesters gathered outside at the entrance to the Cookhouse. They had assembled at short notice — word hadn't leaked out until the previous day that Schwarzenegger would make a stop here — but they came ready with their signs. "Arnold is for sale — Arkley is buying!" said one, in reference to local businessman Rob Arkley, owner of Security National (which owns the Eureka Reporter) and one of Schwarzenegger's most generous financial backers. Arkley's proposed Marina Center development, which will include a Home Depot, has generated much controversy locally, and will have to be approved by the state Coastal Commission.
Other signs demanded full funding for California schools. Others proudly promoted Phil Angelides, whom Democrats had just chosen to challenge Schwarzenegger in the fall. (Angelides' triumph over his primary opponent, Steve Westly, was a subject of much discussion inside the Cookhouse as well; the consensus was that Arnold would have a much easier time of it against the pencil-necked Angelides than he would have done against Westly, a self-made Internet zillionaire).
There was dissent among the dissenters, though. Earth First! activist Shunka Wakan showed up, bullhorn in hand, to join the protest. But after a few minutes of amplified speechifying — "Arnold has said he has a 50-year plan to become Emperor of the World!" — Shunka was asked to stand well apart from the rest of the group. He peacefully complied.
Eight o'clock came and went, and spirits sagged just a bit. The Cookhouse grew ever more crowded, and it became extremely difficult to move from place to place. Some foreheads grew sweaty. Rumors flew about — he would arrive in five minutes, 10 minutes, five minutes more. His plane had landed. He had to come soon, because he had to be in Redding by 10 a.m. Finally, at a quarter to nine, the motorcade rolled up, and cheers began to break out along the receiving line that had formed by the entrance to the courthouse. Schwarzenegger — whose official height, 6 foot 2 inches, is clearly a product of the Hollywood myth-making apparatus — strode out of the SUV and shook hands with Arkley, who was stationed near the front of the line.
The governor, slightly orange in complexion, made his way up the line, pressing the flesh and saying hellos, before finding his way inside. Once there, he worked the room, moving with difficulty throughout the crowded dining hall and the adjacent exhibition of Humboldt County logging history, greeting all with a smile, shaking hundreds of hands and posing for quick pictures. A posse of reporters and photographers trailed after. When all had been thanked for showing up, Schwarzenegger stood up on a chair near the front of the room and delivered a rallying, essentially content-free stump speech, much to the crowd's delight. He asked for four more years to clean up Sacramento. He noted the North Coast's striking similarity to his native Austria, what with the many fields of cattle. He ended with a lengthy call-and-response session: "Do I have your support?" "Yes!" "Do I have your support?" "Yes!" "Do I have your support?" "Yes!" "Do I have your support?" "Yes!"
"Then I promise you ... " he concluded, readying the line that would melt the crowd into a puddle of emotion, "I'll be back!"
The public portion of his visit thus concluded, Schwarzenegger was whisked away into a conference room, there to conduct interviews with The New York Times and Fox News. Local reporters were pointedly banned from the proceedings. He then met with elected members of the local chapter of the Republican Party, and received a briefing from Danco Builders' CEO Dan Johnson and Sun Valley Floral Farms CEO Lane DeVries on their plans to redevelop the town of Samoa.
At the last minute, and after much hectoring from the local media, Schwarzenegger's press secretary arranged a quick stand-up press conference, in which local reporters would be allowed to scream a question or two before the governor and his entourage headed off for Redding. Why did the governor decide to kick off his reelection campaign on the North Coast? one reporter asked. If this was intended to implicate Arkley, it was unsuccessful — Schwarzenegger said simply that he wanted to come to a place that politicians usually ignored, and that it seemed like a good idea to campaign north to south.
What does the governor intend to do to fix the situation on the Klamath River and bring back the salmon fishery for the people of the North Coast? Schwarzenegger acknowledged that it was a very difficult problem, and assured the reporter that his people were working on it. Next? Last question.
What, in the governor's opinion, is California's greatest asset?
Ah. What else? The people.
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