Some Fear Maria Shriver's Influence on Schwarzenegger Governorship

By | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

( - In his bid to become the next governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger has deliberately surrounded himself with a diverse group of advisers. They include former California Gov. Pete Wilson, billionaire investor Warren Buffet and former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz.

But some conservatives worry that if the "Austrian Oak" is elected governor, his most important advisor will be the one he sees at the end of each day - his wife and Kennedy family member Maria Shriver.

In his press conference Wednesday, Schwarzenegger acknowledged Shriver's presence.

"I have lived with a Democrat for 17 years," the candidate said. "I know how to get along with Democrats."

Shriver is the niece of slain President John F. Kennedy and the daughter of Sargent Shriver, the first head of the U.S. Peace Corps and liberal Democrat George McGovern's vice presidential running mate in 1972. She has worked as a journalist and news anchor for CBS and, more recently, NBC News, from which she is now on leave during her husband's campaign.

A Media Reality Check report issued Tuesday by the Media Research Center (MRC) reviewed Shriver's work as a journalist for NBC News. It accused Shriver of allowing her left-wing political beliefs to influence her work. The MRC is the parent organization of

The report's author, MRC Research Director Rich Noyes, wrote that while NBC did not assign Shriver many political stories, when it did, she was "always very adoring and very fawning of liberals...and very dismissive of Republicans, conservatives, et cetera."

Noyes wrote that Shriver "seems to want to be an activist, [and] she seems to want to bend the world toward her version of Kennedy liberalism."

Either Shriver is more liberal than she lets on at NBC, Noyes asserted, "or Arnold Schwarzenegger's found himself with a very, very liberal, politically connected wife who's going to try to give the advice that she thinks is best - which is very, very liberal advice."

Noyes added: "And that's one more reason why conservatives need to wonder whether there's anything for them in a Schwarzenegger candidacy."

But would Shriver's desire for liberal activism, if it exists, necessarily affect her husband if he became governor? Political scientist Anthony Eksterowicz of James Madison University, who has researched the influence of first ladies on U.S. presidents, told that the wives of presidents and governors have a unique influence over their husbands.

"No other advisor really has that kind of influence," Eksterowicz explained. "She can have tremendous influence on a chief executive, precisely because of the proximity that she enjoys that other advisors don't enjoy.

"But it's more than just proximity," the political scientist added. "It's the desire to have the influence, it's a matter of timing, and it's a matter of issue selection."

Eksterowicz said that a first lady's influence depends upon a number of variables.

"Generally speaking, first ladies who have the most influence over their husband are going to be first ladies that have a very good political partnership with their husband," Eksterowicz said, noting that such a partnership is not necessarily dependent on the quality of the marital relationship itself.

"It's also true that a first lady who is active in her own policy areas, own policy agendas, will have a lot more influence over the chief executive...[and] that first ladies who are more formally educated and have held jobs down tend to be more active," Eksterowicz added.

Although the Schwarzeneggers lack political experience, media reports indicate that Shriver takes an active role in Schwarzenegger's movie business. Eksterowicz said the couple's business partnership indicates they would also form a political partnership if Schwarzenegger got elected.

"If they have a partnership that is business in nature, they'll probably take that to the statehouse...The kind of relationship that they have, either business, political partnership or just a great sound marriage, all of that will help him if they achieve power," Eksterowicz said.

Edward Klein, author of three books on the Kennedy family, most recently The Kennedy Curse: Why America's First Family Has Been Haunted With Tragedy for 150 Years, said Kennedy women have often played a significant role in their husband's political careers.

"Traditionally, Kennedy women have played a largely behind-the-scenes role as partners in their husbands' political aspirations," Klein said. "They have generally not been perceived as engaging in serious policy discussions but as helping support their husbands' campaign by participating on the campaign trail with them.

"But in recent years," Klein said, "and especially since the feminist movement, the Kennedy women - such as Kerry Kennedy Cuomo and Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger - have taken a more visible upfront and substantive role."

Klein noted that despite their perennial support for liberal causes and their long-time involvement in Democratic politics, the Kennedys have actually been more interested in power than liberal ideals.

" for power is rooted in their history, in having been a victim of prejudice and bigotry as Irish Catholics in both Ireland and the United States. And their fierce battle [is] to overcome the stigma of having been treated so badly. This passion for power in the case of the Kennedys has been distorted into an obsession for power at all costs, including ethical standards. They've been willing to do anything to achieve power. They have traditionally done this through the Democratic Party, and I'm sure will continue to, but that is almost an accident of history more than anything else," said Klein.

State Sen. Tom McClintock, a conservative Republican and also a candidate for California governor, told that he has "always believed that wives and families are off limits and would have no comment" about the Schwarzenegger-Shriver relationship.

But McClintock did criticize Schwarzenegger for his choice of Warren Buffet as an economic advisor and for the few public positions he has taken.

"Obviously, the few positions that he has taken on public policy issues over the years are identical to Gray Davis'," McClintock said. "This election, by the way, is not about Gray Davis, it's about the policies that Gray Davis has pursued that have brought us to the edge of bankruptcy and a period of disintegrating public services despite the highest rate of spending in California's history."

McClintock also derided Schwarzenegger's familiar statement that he is a social liberal but a fiscal conservative.

"I have always thought that one of the phoniest claims in California politics is that 'I'm a fiscal conservative but a social liberal,' which always invites the question: 'How do you plan to pay for your socially liberal programs with your fiscally conservative policies?'" said the state legislator.

A spokesman for Republican Bill Simon, another conservative candidate for governor, declined to comment for this story.

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