[[P R O T E S T S]] * Because I’ve been occupied with other duties, and haven’t been able to update Limbo for the last few days, I missed calling immediate attention to the campaign by Austrian politicians to remove the name of action star turned California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger from the sports stadium in Graz, the capital of the province where he was born. I didn’t want to miss out completely, though, on noting this act of protest, which comes in response to Schwarzenegger’s decision earlier this week to deny clemency to Stanley Tookie Williams, co-founder of Los Angeles’ notorious Crips gang, who was convicted in 1981 for murdering four people during a 1979 holdup. Because the Governator failed to intervene, Williams’ execution went ahead as scheduled last Tuesday morning at California’s San Quentin prison.
Well, capital punishment is very unpopular in Austria, as it is in most other European nations. And though Republican Schwarzenegger was hailed in his homeland in 2003, after he won the California governor’s office in a historic recall election, the actor-pol’s stock with his original countrymen has gone downhill ever since--the pace of its decline only increasing as Schwarzenegger’s popularity in the Golden State has tumbled. The L.A. Times reports that Austrians actually “began to distance themselves from Schwarzenegger when he turned down a request to commute the death sentence of Kevin Cooper in 2004, but political observers said they would have been willing to let that go. Cooper, who was convicted of the 1983 killing of four people in Chino Hills, was granted a stay by a federal appeals court and his case is pending.” However, the guv’s unwillingness to grant Williams clemency--undoubtedly stemming from his fear of alienating Republicans he’ll need to mount a serious re-election campaign next year--seems to have ended Austria’s love affair with its native son.
(This was actually the second time in 2005 that Schwarzenegger denied a death row inmate clemency, the first being condemned murderer Donald Beardslee, who received a lethal injection at San Quentin last January. Following that execution, there was talk of actually revoking the former bodybuilder’s Austrian citizenship.)
While some conservative lawmakers in Austria continue to defend California’s governor, members of the Green and Socialist Democratic parties are backing what looks like a majority opinion to strip Schwarzenegger’s moniker from the Graz stadium (pictured above). It’s the least they can do to demonstrate their disapproval of the guv’s Williams decision, they say. As a spokesperson for the Social Democrats complained, Schwarzenegger has “a lot of muscles, but not much heart.”
The city council is expected to act on this matter on January 19.
UPDATE: In a pretty pathetic pre-emptive strike against his Austrian critics, Schwarzenegger on Monday faxed a letter to political leaders in Graz, telling them he was “withdraw[ing] from them as of this day the right to use my name in association with the Liebenauer Stadium.” That sports arena had been redubbed Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium in 1997. The governor went further, telling officials that he was returning the city’s “ring of honor,” which he’d been awarded in 1999: “Since ... Graz appears to no longer accept me as one of their own, this ring has lost its meaning and value to me. It is already in the mail.”
READ MORE: “The Execution of Stanley Tookie Williams,” by Adam Shemper and Jonathan Stein (Salon); “Europeans Outraged at Schwarzenegger,” by Vanessa Gera (AP); “Death Penalty Debate Lifeless in Sacramento,” by Mark Martin (San Francisco Chronicle).