Bonnie Reiss, Early and Key Advisor to Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dies at 62
Bonnie Reiss, who played a key role in crafting education and environmental policy for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, died Monday at her home in Malibu.
Reiss made her way from national politics to entertainment law to government service, serving as a senior advisor to Schwarzenegger and later as the California's Education secretary.
A family spokesman said she was diagnosed with lung cancer last year. Reiss was 62.
"Bonnie never accepted things as they are," Schwarzenegger said in a statement in response to her death. "She was born to shake the status quo to its core and shape the world."
"I have never met anyone with more energy for helping others and improving the world around her," he said.
Reiss' devotion to Schwarzenegger's agenda was a testament to their close personal connection. The partnership between the Republican governor and his liberal Democratic advisor was rooted in a friendship that began four decades ago with Maria Shriver, California's former first lady who married Schwarzenegger in 1986. "She was where the action was," Shriver said.
Reiss had a leadership role in Schwarzenegger's efforts to boost after-school programs for children and was an advocate for environmental protection while serving in his administration. She most recently was a regent for the University of California and served as director of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute.
As a regent, she was praised by colleagues for her focus on the needs of students from underserved and low-income communities.
"She was the conscience of the regents," said Sherry Lansing, a former studio executive and fellow UC regent who later became a close friend. "She always heard the other side in a debate. And when Bonnie spoke, she could sway the room."
UC President Janet Napolitano praised Reiss' work on policy regarding sexual harassment investigations on its campuses, and on efforts to make the university "carbon neutral" by 2025. She said the university will move next month to rename an environmental fellowship program in Reiss' honor.
Reiss was born in New York City and graduated from the University of Miami, where she wrote a column for the student newspaper and hosted a campus radio show. After a brief stint with an accounting firm, she received her law degree from Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C.
It was in law school that Reiss joined the Capitol Hill staff of Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, later putting law school on hold to work on his 1980 presidential campaign. That brought her to California and a fast friendship with Shriver, Kennedy's niece.
"She was always interested in being a part of movements that made people's lives better," Shriver said. "She wanted to be a part of the social change in our country."
Shriver was dating Schwarzenegger at the time and recalled in an interview how she and Reiss borrowed his Jeep for campaign events. "We put Kennedy posters on the sides of his car," she said.
Reiss settled in California to practice entertainment law, though national politics was never far from her mind. In 1984, after Democrats picked New York Rep. Geraldine Ferraro as their vice presidential nominee, Reiss helped found the Hollywood Women's Political Committee. Over more than a decade, the group raised some $6 million for liberal causes through a series of star-studded events.
The environment was a longtime passion. In 1988, Reiss created the Earth Communications Office, an organization The Times described the following year as seeking to "ingrain the green ethic into our pop culture." Reiss lobbied producers and writers to weave pro-environment topics into the story lines of television shows and convinced AMC Theatres in 1991 to run an environmental protection advertisement during movie previews.