Maria Shriver: Reinventing the First Lady

With her husband busy in the governor’s office and her job at NBC News no longer an option, Maria Shriver had only one choice: to reinvent the role of California’s first lady (and have some fun along the way).

By Karen Breslau
in Los Angeles, where she got the kids to school before flying to Sacramento with Schwarzenegger. She addressed both chambers of the legislature, attended a concert of the Vienna Boys’ Choir in the Capitol rotunda, hosted a reception at The California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts, and then met with California National Guard families. Then there were several private meetings with her staff, as well as phone calls with the kids. Shriver’s last public appearance started at 7 p.m., at a fund-raiser for victims of domestic violence. Dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a boldly patterned quilted jacket, she gave a passionate speech aimed at women who "feel they have no voice." Then she played a little charity ping-pong with stars from the city’s NBA team, the Sacramento Kings. As she headed back to the hotel shortly before 10, she still hadn’t eaten. But before she had a chance, the phone rang, and she was plunged into high-level negotiations with her 15-year-old daughter over the terms of an upcoming sleepover.Arnold for President? Growing up in a political household herself, Maria watched her parents, Eunice and Sargent Shriver, charge off as soldiers in Camelot, serving Eunice’s brother, President John F. Kennedy. Sarge founded the Peace Corps and Head Start, and served as Ambassador to France; Eunice started the Special Olympics. Both traveled incessantly — heady stuff, unless you were waiting at home for someone to read you a bedtime story. "Growing up, I always felt like I had two parents who were changing the world, and my brothers and I were just sitting there," says Shriver. "I knew, much more than Arnold, what political life was about, and I’ve talked to people whose parents were also in politics. By and large, they don’t like it." In 1972, Sargent Shriver ran for vice president as George McGovern’s running mate. Maria, then 16, felt his defeat acutely. "I remember so vividly when I drove home from the hotel, the Secret Service was unplugging the phones and closing their trailer. And within 24 hours everyone who worked for my dad and was part of his vision was gone." Shriver snaps her fingers for emphasis. "Gone. Just like that."It’s midmorning, and we have moved across the street to Shriver’s office in the "horseshoe," the warren of offices in the Capitol where Schwarzenegger and his top aides work. The small room is tranquil and bright, with a small fountain gurgling on an end table. Photos of Arnold and the children are everywhere. Shriver knows it’s a nice perch, but the memory of her father’s campaign keeps her grounded. She says, "It’s a great help to me to know that this is very temporary, very fleeting." I mention that since last summer, when Schwarzenegger delivered a hugely successful speech at the Republican convention, there’s been a fair amount of speculation about whether he will run for president (a feat that would first require a constitutional amendment allowing foreign-born citizens to be eligible). "People come up to me all the time and say, ‘I hope Arnold runs,’" she says tartly. "I don’t think they have a clue what it takes to amend the constitution. I believe that in a nation of immigrants, the job should be open to people who are not born here. But there’s just no way that it will ever be done to benefit Arnold. It has nothing to do with me. Period." Would Schwarzenegger, now 57, even want to be president? "I don’t ever discuss it," she responds, with the briefest flash of annoyance. "I’m much more interested in my kids’ summer plans."Sensitivity and Determination Late one afternoon, Shriver is meeting with the families of a half dozen California National Guardsmen who have just returned from Iraq. She listens intently as the soldiers describe the astronomical expense of calling home, and promises to help raise money and public awareness. An 11-year-old boy tells her that he got to see his father only once during his 18-month deployment. Shriver leans across the table so that they are nearly at eye level and smiles. "You know your dad is doing important work and serving his country," she tells the youngster, who nods his head in agreement. "But that doesn’t really help when you miss someone, does it?

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