LOS ANGELES – On a recent morning, Maria Shriver had a roomful of admiring listeners hanging on her every word. Unfortunately for her husband, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, none of them was old enough to vote.
Shriver was addressing a fourth-grade class at Charles W. Barrett Elementary School in south Los Angeles as part of a campaign to improve disaster preparedness among children. On another campaign important to the Shriver-Schwarzenegger household – the battle over state ballot initiatives backed by the governor – California’s first lady has remained virtually silent.
Aides to the couple say that isn’t expected to change before the Tuesday special election. They and others don’t blame Shriver for her silence, even if it has deprived Schwarzenegger of one of his most articulate and charismatic advocates.
After all, Shriver would be breaking family ranks no matter where she came down on the measures, Democratic and Republican activists say. As a Democrat and a Kennedy, they say, she would have to all but shape-shift to endorse proposals despised by the party that counts three of her uncles as icons.
And if she were to publicly criticize the initiatives, things presumably would get chilly on the home front.
“It’s a lose-lose for her,” said Republican consultant Kevin Spillane. “She has my sympathy.”
Democratic leaders are also sympathetic and wish Shriver had more success promoting the party’s interests in the Schwarzenegger administration. They see the initiatives as the latest example of the governor’s tilt to the right, a shift they had hoped Shriver would prevent.
The measures would make it tougher for teachers to earn tenure, restrict the spending of public-employee union dues for politics, cap state spending and strip the Legislature of the power to map its districts.
All are fiercely opposed by the state Democratic Party and labor groups.
In 2003, shortly before Schwarzenegger took office, several of Shriver’s relatives and friends had said she would be the administration’s Democratic conscience, especially on issues involving education, the environment, the disabled and the disadvantaged.
“I wish Ms. Shriver would play a more prominent role,” Jack O’Connell, state superintendent of public instruction, said last week.
O’Connell, who joined Shriver at the Barrett School event, said that Schwarzenegger’s record on school funding has been “extremely disappointing” and that the spending initiative, Proposition 76, would be “disastrous” for education.
Shriver’s influence may have been seen more readily in Schwarzenegger’s appointment of Democrats and independents to key posts. Her new staff chief is liberal Democrat Daniel Zingale, who worked for former Gov. Gray Davis.