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Schwarzenegger debuts today

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO- In stark contrast to his international celebrity, Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t promoting a glitzy debut as California governor and has instead promised to focus today on state business after a low-key swearing-in ceremony.

Mindful of the bitterness that still surrounds the first transfer of power after a recall election, not to mention the state’s fiscal troubles, the Republican has shied from the black-tie brio that normally enlivens inaugurations.

But while the actor-turned-chief executive may want to downplay the day, the rest of the world will not. Sacramento is bracing for a frenzy.

Schwarzenegger is expected to deliver a brief speech, attend three ceremonial receptions and return to the Capitol by mid-afternoon for his first hours of work. The job became more daunting over the weekend with a projection from his chief financial deputy that the state budget deficit stands at $25 billion – far more than other recent estimates.

If nothing else, Schwarzenegger’s first day will be well documented.

Requests for press credentials to the swearing in have come from TV crews and print journalists around the globe – including Japan, Australia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and, of course, Schwarzenegger’s native Austria. Nearly 650 journalists will be covering the event – as many as might cover a presidential inauguration.

“Sacramento has never seen anything like this before – it is astonishing,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political scientist at the University of Southern California. “There has never been this kind of intense media attention on the governor at anytime in the state.”

Besides the press corps, another 7,500 invited guests will attend the ceremony, which will begin at 11 a.m on the west steps of the Capitol.

Security will be tight, said California Highway Patrol spokesman Steve Kohler. He said the area will be fenced off and some streets will be closed to accommodate approximately 50 TV satellite trucks.

“I think that people who just show up downtown hoping to watch will be badly disappointed,” he said. “You’d be better off staying home and watching it on TV.”

California Supreme Court Justice Ronald George will administer the oath of office and Schwarzenegger’s wife, Maria Shiver, is expected to hold the Bible.

The ceremony is supposed to take only about an hour. The new first couple will then host a luncheon inside the Capitol rotunda for state and federal officials; head across the street to a private family gathering; and later attend an invitation-only reception sponsored by the state Chamber of Commerce at the convention center.

After that, in a departure from recent inaugurations, there will be no big parties, no gala balls.

In 1995, Natalie Cole sang at then-Gov. Pete Wilson’s inaugural gala. The 1999 inaugural for Gov. Gray Davis, ousted by last month’s recall vote, included a $3.7 million event featuring Lionel Richie, Kenny G and a reading by “Happy Days” actor Henry Winkler. Davis toned down his second inaugural, held earlier this year amid the state’s fiscal crisis, to a casual party at an auditorium with the swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy entertaining.

Schwarzenegger has said he will spend this afternoon at work. First up could be Schwarzenegger’s promise not to let his first day in office end before issuing an executive order repealing the hike in the car tax.

Schwarzenegger has also said he will call the Legislature back into session, probably Tuesday, to deal with a range of issues including midyear budget cuts, reform of the state’s worker compensation system and a repeal of a new law that lets undocumented workers get driver’s licenses.