SAN JOSE — At a pivotal point for keeping his job, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told the divided GOP faithful Friday that he will continue to battle for reform of education, state spending, troubled pension systems and political boundary redistricting.

"We will continue to fight for recovery," Schwarzenegger said.

The governor also reminded Republicans that he reversed the car tax, overhauled workers' compensation, stopped illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses and avoided tax hikes.

But he also had a warning for the GOP.

"Republicans must begin to change our outlook," he said. "We cannot just fight, we must build. We cannot just follow, we must lead."

Schwarzenegger addressed 1,400 delegates to the state GOP convention, with hopes of quieting conservative critics in the party who have their chance today to publicly air complaints about his veer to the center.

Though concerned about the critics, the governor is clinging to a support base of only 35 percent of Californians as he seeks re-election this year in a Democrat-leaning state.

He has shifted toward moderate stances on his proposed budget spending, costly public works bonds, minimum wage-hike support, judicial appointments and aides in an attempt to recapture some of the Democrats and independents he has lost — particularly in the Bay Area.

Highly popular as a former movie star, Schwarzenegger ousted former Gov.


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Gray Davis in 2003 as a maverick reformer with centrist appeal, then last year launched an unsuccessful and bruising special election to enact a partisan agenda.

"He's moved (back) toward the center because he knows you don't win an election as a Republican in California without independents," said Henry Brady, director of UC Berkeley's Survey Research Center. "It's a move in the right direction."

Despite conservative GOP critics, the governor was virtually assured of his party's nomination at the convention Sunday and was scheduled to leave after his Friday night speech for a National Governors Association conference this weekend in Washington, D.C.

The California Republican Assembly, representing the most conservative delegates, had been ready to fight for reversal of Schwarzenegger's endorsement.

They gave up that battle in exchange for the first public discussion today of their complaints.

The party's resolutions committee will consider four statements that criticize the governor on spending increases in his budget, an expensive public works bond proposal, support for a minimum wage hike and judicial appointments.

Conservatives also are upset by the governor's recent hiring of Democrat Susan Kennedy as his chief of staff.

Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, said "Kennedy is a symbol of the problems with the governor."

"Because of her ties to the Democratic Party and her role in the Davis administration, that's the abandonment of the principles behind the recall," Spence said. "That's what is frustrating a lot of conservatives."

Duf Sundheim, chairman of the California Republican Party, said "though it's clear Republicans wholeheartedly support the re-election of Governor Schwarzenegger this fall, the fact we have the freedom to openly discuss policy differences is one of our greatest strengths."

Those among the 21 wide-ranging resolutions that pass today will go before the entire assembly of delegates Sunday. Several praise the governor, citing his new infrastructure program, success in helping the economy, strengthening of public safety and efforts on budget reform.

Republicans will tackle the issues as they take in a luncheon today with state Sen. Tom McClintock, a Thousand Oaks Republican who is running for lieutenant governor, and a keynote speech tonight by Republican Secretary of State Bruce McPherson.

McClintock, widely considered the party's most prominent conservative voice, played a key role in persuading the California Republican Assembly to drop its resolution against endorsing Schwarzenegger. 

The senator said he disagrees with the governor on some issues but notes that Schwarzenegger has accomplished many things that appeal to conservatives. McClintock said that "it's quite appropriate for the party to define its principles and to raise hell when its standard-bearers waver from those principles."

"But that is a very different thing from undermining the candidacies of Republicans like Schwarzenegger, who have done so much in concert with our principles, and shown enormous courage in doing so," McClintock said.

Contact Sacramento Bureau Chief

Steve Geissinger at sgeissinger@angnewspapers.com.