Saturday, September 17, 2005

Rogue Warrior

[[C A M P A I G N S]] * Arnold Schwarzenegger never was able to discern when he’d crossed that crucial line betwixt artistry and parody (Did anybody actually pay to see Terminator 3?), so it comes as no surprise to hear that he’s decided to run for re-election as the governor of California. On the other hand, you’ve gotta give this 58-year-old bodybuilder turned actor turned Republican politician some credit for gumption. I mean, Schwarzenegger’s job approval rating is even lower than George W. Bush’s. A survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found only 34 percent of respondents approving of the way Schwarzenegger has performed in office--a 31 percent decline since August 2004. And a decisive 56 percent of Californians say they are not likely to vote for his re-election, according to a Field Poll. Meanwhile, at least two of the three initiatives Schwarzenegger has endorsed on his state’s expensive November 8 special-election ballot are in trouble; he’s embroiled in scandals revolving around “hush-money” payments made to a former lover and the suppression of a sexually suggestive 1983 Playboy video in which he starred; and he’s on the outs with Democrats and independents who helped him win a 2003 recall election, thanks to his promise to veto bills legalizing same-sex marriage and allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

So why’s Schwarzenegger bothering to run again? The sound-bite is that he hopes to “finish the job” he started in the Golden State’s highest elective office. “I just wanted to let you all know ... I’m a follow-through guy,” he told about 200 GOP lawmakers, activists, and deep-pocketed business allies during a San Diego appearance on Friday, during which he also promised to be their “warrior” against tax hikes advocated by “union bosses.” However, the more immediate intent of his announcement was undoubtedly to reassure his uncertain supporters and the donors to his initiative campaigns that he’ll continue working on their behalf. He also wanted to “[cast] his fall agenda as part of a broad seven-year plan to reform state politics and impose fiscal discipline,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The San Francisco Chronicle notes that the guv has pledged to “tap his personal wealth to contribute to the effort to win passage of the [three] ballot measures.”

At least in the short term, the Times reports, Schwarzenegger’s declaration has “heightened the profile of two relatively obscure Democrats competing for their party’s nomination to challenge the Republican governor: state Treasurer Phil Angelides and state Controller Steve Westly. Both were swamped Friday with the radio and television attention they have long craved, and both used it to pounce on Schwarzenegger.” Angelides called the Republican “a failed governor, a photo-op politician who has left a long trail of shattered promises and missed opportunities.” Westly, a onetime Arnold backer, was quoted as saying “the governor came into this election promising real reform” but has since “taken a hard turn to the right,” raising exorbitant sums of money for special interests. With 14 months to go before the end of Schwarzenegger’s abbreviated term, there will be plenty more time to pass the hat around. The former Terminator intends to be back in the Sacramento Governor’s Mansion come January 2007. As he joked on Friday, “In the movie business, we call this the sequel.”

Of course, as we are all painfully aware, some sequels just don’t deserve to be made.

UPDATE: Silently acknowledging that the three November ballot initiatives he’s been plumping for months now are not popular enough to enhance his own anemic job approval ratings, Schwarzenegger has thrown his weight behind yet a fourth California initiative: Proposition 75. Known in GOPspeak as the “Paycheck Protection” measure, Prop. 75 would require that public employee unions procure written permission before using member dues money for political purposes. Republicans have sought such “protections” for years, contending that unions are inclined most often to support Democratic candidates and causes. (Prop. 226, a similar measure--though it applied to all unions, not just to those for public workers--was rejected by Californians in 1998.) Although the governor has sought in the media to drape himself in bipartisan colors, Democratic Party consultant Roger Salazar told the Los Angeles Times that Schwarzenegger’s endorsement of Prop. 75 “gives Californians a better idea of what his real goals are.” And again, by taking this corporate-friendly ballot measure under his wing, Schwarzenegger strives for a short-term win but risks long-term loss by alienating the Dems and independents he’ll need to get re-elected a year from now.

READ MORE:Arnie Officially Declares War on Unions,” by Nathan Newman (TPM Café); “Schwarzenegger Needs More Than GOP Can Give,” by Michael Finnegan (Los Angeles Times).

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