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Chris Jones

Critics Rush to Pan Schwarzenegger's Las Vegas Appearance

4 August 2004

and Rod Smith

Without so much as a sneak preview, some notable critics dismissed today's planned Arnold Schwarzenegger Strip stage show as too much style and too little substance.

California's Republican governor has rented the Fashion Show mall's Great Hall and will at 12:30 p.m. transform a catwalk typically reserved for models into a de facto political platform encouraging businesses to return to California from Nevada.

But long before he shares his pro-business message with a Southern Nevada audience, many local business and elected leaders were panning Schwarzenegger's expected "Come back to California" message.

"He's barking up the wrong tree coming to Las Vegas and trying to recover what California has lost," Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said. "Once people get a taste of Las Vegas, they ain't going back to California."

A spokeswoman from Schwarzenegger's office said Tuesday evening the governor's trip will "promote job creation at a California Jobs Commission-related event," though she declined to answer additional questions.

However, spokeswoman Margita Thompson told The Associated Press that Schwarzenegger will discuss his state's recent tax compromises and workers' compensation reforms, as well as unveil a billboard that reads "California is Open for Business."

Schwarzenegger planned a similar Las Vegas trip two months ago, but it was postponed by the June 5 death of President Reagan. Regardless of its timing, the visit was not cause for alarm in Carson City, said Greg Bortolin, spokesman for Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn.

"We were notified two months ago ... and nothing much has changed. Governor Guinn wished (Schwarzenegger) well, but at the end of the day, Nevada is a better place to do business," Bortolin said, adding the two elected leaders did not personally discuss today's appearance.

Almost three dozen California companies have moved to Southern Nevada in the past two years, creating nearly 1,500 jobs and an employee economic impact of nearly $200 million, Somer Hollingsworth, president and chief executive officer of the Nevada Development Authority, said in June.

On Tuesday, Hollingsworth added that Schwarzenegger's stump speech will lend credibility to Nevada's ongoing efforts to diversify its business base.

"It speaks volumes about this community, that we are business friendly and are doing some serious `Collateral Damage' to California," Hollingsworth said, referring to a 2002 Schwarzenegger film.

Despite Schwarzenegger's claims, Hollingsworth said little has changed in California, which this week approved a $105.4 billion state budget for 2004-05 that includes nearly $7 billion in loans.

"They have to have the taxes to pay for the social programs," said Hollingsworth, who praised Schwarzenegger's attempts to balance his state's budget but added he's limited by legislators who want to "buy the votes" of residents by funding social programs through bonds and new taxes.

Billy Vassiliadis, whose Las Vegas-based marketing company R&R Partners created the city's popular "What happens here, stays here" tourism campaign, also dismissed Schwarzenegger's Fashion Show gig as a public relations gimmick that's bound to fail.

"Why would any Nevada company go back to California, have its taxes jacked up three or four times and get regulated out of business?" asked Vassiliadis, R&R's chief executive officer.

Like Vassiliadis, Goodman believes the governor's high-profile trip could easily backfire: "When he sees he's getting nowhere fast, and I say this respectfully, he'll wish he didn't have this kind of media" attention.