Your Multi-tasking Governor

"Schwarzenegger had proof of some multi-tasking dexterity," writes LA Times columnist George Skelton, after having a cozy chat with Schwarzenegger in the governor's smoking tent in Sacramento. The column isn't really worth reading, since it mainly recounts Schwarzenegger's very high opinion of Schwarzenegger-- and the Times has a much better story today about what a multi-tasker the governor is. For example, Governor Schwarzenegger can rinse-and-spit on command while busy making decisions about state government. Proof? He's appointed his own dentist to the state dental board.

The Times' Peter Nichols reports:

A string of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's appointees to state boards are facing complaints that they are unqualified, beholden to the industries they oversee or otherwise mired in conflicts of interest.

Schwarzenegger has installed longtime friends and political associates on several boards, giving rise to criticism that he is practicing cronyism while failing to adequately vet people who oversee billions of dollars' worth of economic activity and other public matters.

Last month, Schwarzenegger appointed his dentist to the state dental board. His former chiropractor now chairs the chiropractic panel.

While so far nothing spectacular has happened on the state dental board, Schwarzenegger's appointments to the Board of Chiropractic Examiners have produced an impressive amount of chaos, with everything from violations of state open meeting laws to interference in the ongoing prosecution of a chiropractor accused of performing illegal services. (The Sacramento Bee has done an excellent job of chronicling the freak show the board has become. Here and here are good places to start, if you're interested.) And the chairman isn't the only ornament that Schwarzenegger added to the chiropractic board-- he also larded it up with his longtime bodybuilding buddy, and best man at his wedding, Franco Columbu.

Not being an aficionado of muscleman competitions, I had never heard Columbu before his ol' posing-in-a-speedo pal Schwarzenegger ran for governor. Back in September 2003, I wrote a column for the Weekly about Columbu and Schwarzenegger's old business, European Brick Works.

In several interviews over the years, Arnold has told the story of how he formed European Brick Works in Santa Monica with his friend Franco Columbu, a bodybuilder from Italy, after the Sylmar earthquake of 1971. "We had 16 people working for us, and we were all over town, building chimneys after the earthquake," Arnold told Interview magazine in 1985, leaving out a detail he told Johnny Carson four years earlier about his chimney-building days.

During his 1981 appearance [on The Tonight Show], Arnold explained to Johnny how his bricklaying business worked. Franco and Arnold would call on a homeowner. Arnold, always good with the public, would keep the homeowner busy, discussing prices and such. "In the meantime," Arnold recounted, "Franco climbed up on the roof to check the chimney—and he, of course, is a very strong guy and a [weight] lifter—he pushed all the chimneys over so they fall down. So these people come and say, 'Oh, thank you so much for helping us. This could have fallen on somebody's head, you know. Thank you for doing it for us.'"

Johnny was impressed. "What a racket," he told the immigrant with a dream in his eye. "You go and push chimneys down and then rebuild them."

"Exactly," Arnold replied.

During the recall, Schwarzenegger's people claimed that Arnold was just kidding about ripping off unsuspecting homeowners-- though they never explained why an up-and-coming movie star would want to lie on national television and claim to have committed fraud and destroyed private property in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Of course, even if Schwarzenegger was just joshing about taking advantage of the innocent and chimney-ed, there is another matter that story brings up. As I also noted in that column:

"Like so many of us," the narrator says in a Schwarzenegger commercial running on Spanish-language radio, "he came to his country with a dream in his eye. He started as a bricklayer, and through sheer determination and hard work, he achieved the goals he set for himself." While it's very nice to have a dream in your eye, a Sept. 21 story in the San Jose Mercury News reveals there's a problem with this uplifting story of Arnold the noble immigrant: at the time, he was in this country on an H-2 visa. As the Mercury News explains, "H-2 visas were created to allow workers from other nations to come to the United States for short periods to take on temporary jobs such as picking seasonal crops, cooking at summer resorts or working as ski instructors." Starting his own masonry business was a clear violation of the terms of his visa—a deportable offense—but that is exactly what Arnold says he did.

Arnold, of course, often sternly lectures immigrants on the need to adhere to all the laws of this country, and not try to illegally find work. So what to make of the fact that the governor manages to keep a straight face while he's busy lecturing less muscular immigrants on respect for the law? Simple. It's just proof of his multi-tasking dexterity.


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