Of Course CHP Would Hide Arnold's Affair

JUNE 3, 2011


The bombshell revelation that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver were divorcing because the former action hero and California governor had fathered a 13-year-old boy with his family’s longtime housekeeper immediately led to speculation about how Schwarzenegger had kept the secret for so long. It was not the tabloid press but the staid, mainstream Associated Press that raised the question in a May 19 story of whether his California Highway Patrol security team was aware of his double life and helped keep it hidden from view.

But for those familiar with the CHP’s you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours relationship with Schwarzenegger, it’s ludicrous to think that professional ethics or Victorian morality might have prompted the agency to balk at assisting him with a cover-up. The CHP helped Schwarzenegger win re-election in November 2006 with a vicious dirty trick that undermined the candidacy of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides, then the state’s treasurer. If a law enforcement agency’s leaders were willing to subvert an election with banana republic tactics, they’d do anything.

The dirty trick unfolded after The Los Angeles Times published an embarrassing story about the then-governor on September 2006 involving salacious comments he had made about a Latina lawmaker on audiotapes the paper had been surreptitiously provided by the Angelides campaign. The Schwarzenegger campaign and administration immediately promoted the idea that the governor’s computers had been illegally hacked by Nixonian operatives working for Angelides, trashing the Democratic nominee for “gutter politics.” The CHP and the state attorney general’s office began investigating.

Within days, the investigators for the attorney general’s office confirmed the story told by Angelides’ aides, who said they found the audiotapes by poking around the governor’s official Web site. Yet the CHP didn’t close its investigation and confirm the innocence of Angelides’ staff until long after the election – not until February 2007.

Would a prompt clearing of his aides have swung the election for Angelides? Of course not, given that he was thumped 56 percent to 39 percent. Schwarzenegger not only benefited from a booming economy but from the hysterical-in-retrospect fact that he had gotten much of the California and national media to buy his narrative that he had invented a new “post-partisan” form of governance that had ended years of dysfunction in Sacramento.

But in the weeks before “Tapegate” broke, a landslide was not inevitable. The governor led Angelides by 45 percent to 37 percent in a Field Poll released in July, and Angelides had a seemingly credible ploy to close the gap: linking Schwarzenegger, who spoke at the 2004 Republican National Convention, to the vastly unpopular George W. Bush, pumping up Democratic and independent voters and reminding them how much they loathed Republicans. (This loathing was on display in 2010, when the congressional “shellacking” of Democrats ended at the California border.)

By allowing the Angelides investigation to drag on for no reason, CHP leaders made a conscious attempt to try to use their law enforcement powers to interfere with an election at a point when it was still in doubt. No one can know their motives. But the fact is Schwarzenegger repeatedly protected the corrupt upper ranks of CHP during his seven years as governor until circumstances forced his hand — and then he twice passed on opportunities to bring in reform-minded outsiders to clean up the scandal-ridden organization.

In 2004, shortly after Schwarzenegger took office, The Sacramento Bee published a stunning investigation that showed systematic corruption throughout the California Highway Patrol’s leadership ranks. Some 80 percent of retiring CHP executives had mysteriously developed severe physical ailments in their final years on the job that qualified them for much more lucrative disability pensions. After the Bee report came out, the CHP launched an internal probe. The state Legislative Analyst’s Office – the most respected agency in Sacramento – subsequently reported that the CHP probe seemed like more of an attempt to gloss over its ugly details than to illuminate how the mass pension spiking was allowed to proceed. Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully provided more evidence of CHP’s pervasive corruption when she revealed that her criminal probe was impeded by several CHP witnesses who were “unable or unwilling” to be forthcoming.

The scandal was no surprise to those who had followed the career of CHP Commissioner Dwight “Spike” Helmick, who had long run the agency in imperious, corner-cutting fashion. But it was enough to force him to resign.

Yet instead of bringing in an outsider to change the culture, Schwarzenegger named a Helmick protégé, Mike Brown. When Brown was forced out in February 2008 after more controversies and scandals came to light — including overtime pay abuse, a slew of outrageous misbehavior by senior CHP leaders and contract rigging — Schwarzenegger brought in Joseph Farrow, another Helmick friend and senior CHP official, to be commissioner.

Schwarzenegger’s decision to keep promoting from within came right after a new raft of evidence had emerged of pervasive misconduct in CHP’s upper ranks.

In January 2008, the California State Personnel Board upheld the complaint of a top CHP leader turned whistleblower. Art Acevedo, who left the CHP to become the police chief of Austin, Texas, said he faced retaliation from top CHP officials after he objected to the pension spiking. Acevedo’s allegations of vast perjury during the probes of the spiking were ignored by the Schwarzenegger administration – even though the personnel board report suggested his claims were credible.

For virtually his entire seven years as governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger had the CHP’s back, even as the evidence of the agency’s corruption built. This is one more terrible commentary on his performance as governor – and, yes, on his character.

And if anyone doubts the CHP would go above and beyond to help Schwarzenegger hide his ugly secrets, look back at the events of fall 2006, when it improperly influenced an election to help him. As it turns out, Sacramento isn’t just dysfunctional. When it came to the last governor and his law enforcement allies, it was dirty.

Reed is an editorial writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune and an evening talk-show host on KOGO 600 AM San Diego.

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  1. Tim Cavanaugh
    Tim Cavanaugh 4 June, 2011, 17:27

    In more fairness to the Gubernator than he deserves, I note that Arnold’s group grope with CHP did at least help bring in California Association of Highway Patrolmen as one of the four turncoat unions last year.

    I know, I know, in hindsight it looks mighty unimpressive…

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