Wednesday, May 19, 2004 | Governor likes life on the road | Governor likes life on the road

LOS ANGELES -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the closing minutes of a three-day trip to the Middle East and Germany earlier this month when he confided a single regret. He was disappointed he had to leave.

"I never want to be the governor that hangs," he told reporters at Ramstein Air Base near Frankfurt, shortly before he boarded his private jet for the flight home to California. "I like to do things. I have the energy and I have the enthusiasm."

It may not be long before the state’s celebrity governor is footloose again.

His administration is considering more trips abroad this year and is in the early stages of planning visits to Mexico, the state’s largest export market, and Asia, home to major trade partners Japan, China, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

With his swing through Israel, Jordan and Germany, Schwarzenegger made clear that in his view the reach of his office, like his celebrity, doesn’t stop at the state line.

His aides are confident no one is a more effective salesman for state interests, even if the taxpayer benefits of his first overseas trip are open to question.

"It’s important for people to hear the governor’s message" with the state hungry for jobs, trade and investment, said his spokeswoman, Margita Thompson. "It’s extremely important to do that not just domestically, but also in an international forum."

Foreign trade missions are a staple of state governments around the country. Nearly 40 states maintain overseas offices to promote trade, according to a 2002 survey by the Council of State Governments.

The Republican Schwarzenegger’s predecessor, Democrat Gray Davis, visited Europe, Israel and Mexico while in office.

No one disputes that Schwarzenegger, as an international movie star, is one of the most recognized faces in the world, an asset at a time when celebrities sell everything from prescription drugs to soft drinks.

Everywhere he stopped on his recent trip he was greeted by fans eager for a glimpse of the action star, an autograph or a photo.

"Whenever you see Arnold, you think of his movies. You don’t think of him being governor," said Staff Sgt. Lonnie Caballero, who turned out with his wife and son to see Schwarzenegger at the air base in Germany.

When he travels, "He’s projecting the image of California as a place that would be interesting to be in and do business," said George Gorton, a Schwarzenegger adviser.

Schwarzenegger was widely traveled before he became governor and enjoys it. Although the state has no authority in foreign policy, the governor has met with a string of foreign diplomats and has had invitations to visit more than half a dozen countries.

Schwarzenegger called his trip a success _ a "straight 10" in his words. But even those who have been involved in trade missions said the value of the overseas exposure can be difficult to measure and, in some cases, justify.

Former Gov. George Deukmejian, a Republican who opened five foreign trade offices and traveled to Asia, Mexico and Europe during his term, said his involvement encouraging trade was a boon for the state.

"The component of our economy relating to trade has continuously grown since those years," he said.

But when asked whether trade growth would have occurred without the involvement of the state government or his office, Deukmejian said, "It’s hard to say. I’m confident and convinced it helped."

Steven Maviglio, Davis’ former press secretary, said there is no accurate way to gauge the economic benefit of an overseas visit.

"It’s difficult to translate the message ‘We are open for business’ into dollars and cents," Maviglio said, echoing a familiar Schwarzenegger line.

California eliminated funding for its 12 overseas trade offices last year because of doubts about their effectiveness and cost, about $6 million a year. An investigation by The Orange County Register found that the trade offices -- with locations in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America -- took credit for $44 million in business deals in which they played little or no role.

The Associated Press reported this month that while Schwarzengger announced cutting deals with several Israeli companies to bring almost 1,000 jobs to the state, officials at those companies said they made their decisions without help from the governor or his administration.

The cost of Schwarzenegger’s trip, which included a retinue of statehouse aides, a personal friend and security officers, has not been disclosed. Thompson, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the costs will be split among taxpayers, the governor’s campaign funds and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which invited the governor to Israel to celebrate the groundbreaking for a museum of tolerance.

Such trips "are necessary for the governor because almost every other state is out there trying to promote their exports," said Democratic strategist Garry South. But "in common parlance, they are known as junkets. I think voters are suspicious of it."


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