Fred Aguiar

10:00 PM PST on Monday, February 8, 2010

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s inner circle has taken on an Inland flavor as he begins his final months in office and tries to shore up his legacy.

Since November, Schwarzenegger has appointed a trio of people with San Bernardino County roots to high-ranking posts in his office.

Former county supervisor and Republican lawmaker Fred Aguiar returns for another stint with an administration he first joined in 2003. This time, he is Schwarzenegger’s deputy chief of staff.

Aguiar’s longtime aide, Scott Reid, is the new cabinet secretary, the administration’s point person for working with different agency chiefs who oversee dozens of state departments. And former Redlands Mayor Susan Peppler is the chief deputy cabinet secretary.

Governor’s spokesman Aaron McLear said the appointments signal that Schwarzenegger will be pushing hard this year.

“They bring a lot of experience,” McLear said. “In his final year the governor is shuffling the lineup to put our top talent in key positions for an aggressive year.”

The governor’s office declined to make Aguiar, Peppler or Reid available for interviews. In brief remarks, Aguiar said he was glad to be back and to revisit some of the issues he worked on before.

Governor’s aides are charged with carrying out Schwarzenegger’s agenda and policy initiatives across a state government that encompasses more than 200,000 employees and hundreds of boards, commissions and offices.

That can be a particular challenge when the boss is a lame duck. The bureaucracy can wait out a governor. And the Democrat-controlled Legislature could be looking ahead to when Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has left.

Then there is the problem of recruiting top talent for posts that won’t be there in 11 months.

Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio, who worked for former Gov. Gray Davis, said the administration would have a tough time its final year regardless of who’s on staff. Schwarzenegger’s job-approval ratings have been below 30 percent since late last year.

“There’s no fear factor anymore,” he said. “They’re not going to be able to accomplish much, because the budget is going to suck up all the air.”

Aguiar’s hiring has led to speculation that he was brought in to replace chief of staff Susan Kennedy if she opted to leave the administration she joined in late 2005. But McLear said that’s not the case. “She isn’t going anywhere,” he said.

Longtime aide

Few top administration appointees remain from the weeks after voters recalled former Gov. Gray Davis and replaced him with Schwarzenegger in October 2003. Aguiar is one of them.

Aguiar, then a San Bernardino County supervisor, was recommended to Schwarzenegger by then state Sen. Jim Brulte, R-Rancho Cucamonga, Aguiar’s friend and former legislative colleague.

Soon after, Schwarzenegger appointed Aguiar to lead the State and Consumer Services Agency, which oversees professional licensing and consumer protection. He became cabinet secretary in 2005 and helped coordinate administration activities as Schwarzenegger ran for re-election in 2006.

In 2007, Schwarzenegger appointed Aguiar to a $124,000-a-year spot on the seven-member Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.

Last March, though, Schwarzenegger called Aguiar back to his old job. The move came after then-consumer services secretary Rosario Marin quit following disclosures that she had accepted illegal speaking fees.

More changes came in the fall. After complaints that the state was slow to issue unemployment checks, Schwarzenegger shuffled some aides and brought in Aguiar and Reid. Peppler soon followed.

“I want to ensure that the most experienced and well-qualified individuals are serving in the key roles necessary to build upon our successes as we launch our agenda for the next year,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement announcing Aguiar and Reid’s appointments.

‘EXPERIENCED’

Associates call Aguiar a trusted adviser to Schwarzenegger. He is aggressive and skilled at navigating the bureaucracy, they said.

“(Aguiar) understands the impact on local government. He understands how laws are made in the Legislature, and he’s experienced at the agencies,” said Richard Costigan, Schwarzenegger’s former legislative secretary. “I think that’s what the governor sees in him.”

There have been some bumps along the way.

In 2006, the federal special master overseeing the state’s corrections system accused Kennedy and Aguiar of perjury in their descriptions of conversations with the state’s then-prisons chief. Schwarzenegger’s office denied the allegations. Nothing ever came of the claim.

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