Amidst the outcry over Arnold’s appointment of Democratic big cheese Susan Kennedy as his chief of staff, it’s easy to miss the most important thing Kennedy is saying in her own defense: she voted for all of Arnold’s reform measures in the Nov. 8 special election.

Kennedy is a pro-business social liberal (sound familiar, like the guv perhaps?) who is enough of a centrist to break with her own party over the special election issues.Yet her appointment by Arnold has sent the pundits and Republican Party into a terrible tizzy. I have seen the words “bizarre” (Wall Street Journal) and “radical” (Los Angeles Times) applied to Schwarzenegger’s appointment of Kennedy, as if he’s announced that he’s just appointed Bugs Bunny as chief of staff.

Truth is, the Republicans could do far worse than having a Republican governor choose a Democratic chief of staff like Kennedy.

She’s a sensible pragmatic — not what the pundits are saying — and the proof of this can be found in how she behaved during the special election. While California’s mostly Democratic voters emotionally went against their own interests to punish Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kennedy kept a clear head. She bucked her party’s hysterics and voted for the wise reforms.

This means that Kennedy voted to roll back the ridiculous teacher tenure that protects green teachers who’ve had just two years in a classroom, and she voted to require unions to make sure they have permission before spending workers’ dues on political battles with which workers may disagree, and she backed the effort to end corrupt political gerrymandering in California. All hotly opposed by the Democratic Party of California and the sad hacks who control it.

A lesbian, Kennedy is clearly not the sort of cookie-cutter lefty lesbian so typical in Sacramento, like bossy loudmouths Jackie Goldberg and Carol Migden. Yet all the Republicans can talk about right now is how Kennedy is a hardcore Democratic partisan and was part of a dirty tricks team that defeated GOP candidate Bruce Herschensohn when he ran for U.S. Senate against Barbara Boxer.

Ho hum. To be clear, Herschensohn’s campaign imploded when operatives in the Democratic Party outed him for attending girlie strip shows. There’s never been a shred of evidence that Susan Kennedy was involved in that character assassination.

Moreover, if the Republicans whining today about that outing incident had enough dirt to similarly ruin a Democratic candidate for office, they’d do so in one hot minute. What hypocrites.

Nor do I have any patience with the guilt-by-association sliming of Kennedy in the last few days. The media have been implying that because Kennedy was at one time Gov. Gray Davis’ deputy chief of staff, she must be utterly incompetent on some level.

Kennedy used a politically balanced approach under Davis. Hers was not the only standout work done by serious staffers, even as the disastrous Davis bumbled along. For example, Kerry Mazzoni, Davis’ Secretary of Education, went up against the intellectually corrupt California Teachers Association to help Davis push through dramatic school reforms — his one great achievement as governor.

Mazzoni is proof that even under a governor as bad as Davis, a lot of talented people were trying to fix California. Kennedy was among them.

Yet from the coverage so far, it seems many in the media — as well as in the GOP — have already decided that only losers and fools worked for Davis. How incredibly childish.

Using the same reasoning being applied by the “Oh my God, Susan Kennedy worked for Gray Davis!” crowd, let’s see who else Susan Kennedy worked for: Well, she worked for Di-Fi (U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein). That’s proof of the exact opposite, is it not?

I could easily argue that Kennedy’s hiring by Di-Fi, one of the sharpest senators around, and a deeply popular politician in California, proves that Susan Kennedy is actually pretty great.

It all makes my head hurt. The media, and the governor’s own GOP, don’t seem to grasp that Kennedy’s appointment is not radical and not bizarre. It’s the logical next step for a governor who has aggressively appointed Democratic honchos to hundreds of powerful state jobs and judgeships.

I have, in my files, more than 500 press releases detailing who Schwarzenegger has appointed to what post since January of 2004. Roughly speaking, his ratio of appointing Democrats vs. Republicans is not quite 2:3. This is revolutionary stuff. Schwarzenegger’s consistent appointment of Democrats to major jobs and judgeships is remarkable, surpassing the broadly bipartisan appointments made by former Gov. Ronald Reagan, who focused largely on the judiciary.

Schwarzenegger doesn’t even crow about it.

Just since mid-September, Arnold has appointed Democrats to judgeships around California, to fancy jobs in Sacramento, and to key posts in which he matched expertise with job requirements and ignored party registration.

Here’s a good sampling of the latest bunch of appointments, still sitting in my e-mail inbox, that offer a good representation of what the governor is really up to:

Michael Genest, appointed as Director of the Department of Finance, has held several big jobs under Arnold, including undersecretary for the Health and Human Services Agency and acting director of the Department of Finance. Genest, who holds a master’s degree in public policy from UC Berkeley, is a Republican.

Ginger E. Garrett, appointed to a judgeship in the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court, has served as family law commissioner for the San Luis Obispo Superior Court since 2002 and is a Democrat.

Morris D. Jacobson, appointed to a judgeship in Alameda County Superior Court, has been a deputy district attorney for Alameda County District Attorney’s Office since 1989 and is a Democrat.

Julie A. McManus, appointed to a judgeship in the Nevada County Superior Court, has served as deputy county counsel for Nevada County since 2001 and is a Republican.

Christina Curry, of the Elk Grove Office of Emergency services, appointed as assistant director at the Office of Emergency Services (OES) is a Republican.

Shirley Dove, of Ventura, appointed to the State Council on Developmental Disabilities, is a longtime advocate for persons with developmental disabilities and is a Republican.

Duane Furman, of Madera, appointed to the San Joaquin River Conservancy Governing Board, was an assistant professor at California State University and is a Democrat.

P.K. Agarwal, appointed to be Director of the Department of Technology Services, holds a Master of Science degree in operations research and a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering and is a “decline-to-state.”

Russell Gould, appointed to be a Regent of the University of California, is senior vice president for Wachovia Bank and is a “decline-to-state.”

Leslie Tang Schilling, appointed to be a Regent of the University of California, is president of Union Square Investments, Inc., which she founded in 1981. She is in the American Independent Party.

Get it? Finally? Can the governor’s actions to include Democrats in power-sharing be any more plain than shown by his actual appointments over these past two years?

I’m also exceedingly teed off that nobody seems to understand what an incredible risk and gutsy move Kennedy herself has taken.

I could not agree more with John Myers, the prescient bureau chieft at KQED’s Capital Notes, www.kqed.org/weblog/capitalnotes/blog.jsp, who, in his coverage of Kennedy’s recent press conference, explains that Kennedy “took aim at Democrats who may think she’s sold out by working for the man they fought in this month’s special election. In fact, Kennedy said she supported and voted for every one of the governor’s initiatives. ‘I’m tired of the partisanship,’ said Kennedy. ‘I’m tired of the intolerance that has resulted in gridlock. And I felt it was time for me, as a Democrat, to put up or shut up.’”

Now that’s interesting politics.

Kennedy is willing to potentially upset the Democratic Party hierarchy — and to harm relationships she forged in the political fires over many years — by making a very tough and courageous career move to help a guy on the other side of the aisle. How dare she act like that?

Kennedy’s comment about “intolerance” and “gridlock” clearly is aimed more heavily at the Democrats than at the Republicans. She’s obviously savvy to the situation in Sacramento, where a sad bunch of absurdly partisan elected Democrats spend most of their time protecting awful, tottering systems that don’t work.

Kennedy embodies a valiant effort by Schwarzenegger and others to challenge a phony, polarized political system that ignores the fact that voters are not nearly as polarized as politicians. Schwarzenegger forgot this truth. He fell into a formula this past year that went far, far too partisan, and far, far too Republican.

Voters are sick of it. I’m sick of it. Schwarzenegger’s strategy not only failed at the ballot box, it also wiped out his previously huge political advantage and his special standing with voters. But perhaps not permanently: Now he’s returning to his fresh-minded default approach, of mixing the parties together to see what happens.

One thing that happens is Susan Kennedy. And that’s neither bizarre nor radical.