The late, great governator

Posted: Jul 25, 2006 12:01 AM
The late, great governator

LAST WEEK, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up 40 minutes late for a lunchtime speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco -- and he didn't even apologize to the hundreds of people who took the time out from their busy lives to come see him. In May, Schwarzenegger showed up more than 45 minutes late for a morning naturalization ceremony honoring 1,150 new Americans and their families.

Yes, Schwarzenegger is not the first politician to show up late for an event. Yes, elected officials have to deal with crises and juggle schedules so loaded that delays are inevitable. In a state as big as California, air travel can present unforeseeable delays.

Spokesperson Margita Thompson noted, "The governor's days are often packed with 10 events a day. Sometimes delay is unavoidable. You have events that pop up." Even as Schwarzenegger held his big health-care summit Monday, he packed in a press call with Washington reporters and an editorial board meeting with La Opinion.

She added, "His days are jam-packed. He wants to do as much as he can each day for the people of California. If that means waking up early and working late, that's what he does."

Still, it is rude to show up 40 minutes late for a speech -- and the governor's failure to apologize suggests that he doesn't think it is much of a problem if he causes hundreds of people to wait for him to show up.

Ditto his frequent late arrivals.

Former President Bill Clinton was notoriously late. Friends of Bill like to think it was because he lingered in his enjoyment of other people, not because he didn't value other people's time.

President Bush is notoriously punctual -- and believe me, there are people who are happy to frame Dubya's consideration of others' time as a sign of weakness.

The last two California governors, Democrat Gray Davis and Republican Pete Wilson, habitually ran late.

Bill Whalen of the Hoover Institution, who used to work for Wilson as his director of public affairs, said he was surprised Schwarzenegger didn't make a self-deprecating joke about being late. "Keep in mind, he's the kind of person people will wait for." Besides, Schwarzenegger is a star. He shines. He radiates. People are excited about seeing him, Whalen noted, whereas, if Democratic rival Phil Angelides "were 40 minutes late, people might leave."

Garry South, who worked as a campaign adviser for Davis and other Democrats, told me that after working with politicians for 35 years, "What you find with politicians, it's not just occasionally showing up tardy. It is a pattern." It's as if they need to be late.

"A lot of it is intentional. There is a certain part of the psyche of these folks in politics that posits that showing up late makes you look more important." South has seen candidates arrive to events on time, then chat on the cell phone so they could make a dramatic, late entrance.

Let me admit, I can be late, too. About once a year, I show up really late for something, and about once a year, I completely blow an appointment. In fact, this year I blew a lunch with Team Arnold's communications director Katie Levinson after I somehow deleted her last name and other info from my Palm Pilot. At least, however, I am duly mortified when I make people go somewhere and wait for me.

Courteous remorse separates me from candidates who show up more than half an hour late for an editorial board meeting but don't even seem to notice they were time-challenged.

Then they expect an endorsement.

As South noted, "If you had an employee who kept showing up 40 minutes or an hour late, he or she wouldn't be working there long." In this case, the governor does work for the people.

You would probably have to go back to the courtly George Deukmejian to find a California governor who tried to run on time. A friend who worked for Deukmejian once told me that he had offered to take some material to Deukmejian's home -- the governor was sick and working at home -- and Deukmejian protested that he didn't want to make a staffer go out of his way.

You can't imagine Schwarzenegger or Davis or Wilson showing that kind of consideration for their staffers. Likewise, I cannot imagine Schwarzenegger thinking about other people's schedules -- instead, he seems happy to treat the public like a cast of extras who are paid to wait.