Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's Austrian-born governor, sat down with a German news magazine to offer a freewheeling assessment of the American political landscape.
Schwarzenegger told Der Spiegel on Friday that leaders of his California Republican Party were "just so out there," politically, that "I have almost no contact with them. None."
In his remarks, from a transcript published in English of an interview conducted partly in German, Schwarzenegger also said that delegates to the national conventions of both parties were "hard-core" and that Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, was "a good-looking woman." He praised the "incredible" candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama, the Democrat running for president. And he said he doesn't know whether his Los Angeles gardeners are legal immigrants.
His statements about California Republicans inflamed the moderate governor's already strained relationship with the more conservative GOP lawmakers. Assembly Republicans wore name tags to a meeting with Schwarzenegger about the state budget impasse Tuesday afternoon.
They engaged in some "very direct" discussion, and came out on good terms, said Assembly minority leader Mike Villines of Clovis.
"Maybe there was something in translation lost, or maybe he feels that way about some of the views that we have," Villines said. "I consider him a friend. Obviously we see the world differently in many ways." As for the name tags, he said, "You've got to have a sense of humor about this. . . . He's in our family, like it or not."
State Republican Chairman Ron Nehring said that he was "in constant contact with the governor's office on issues as they come up." But what about the governor? "I saw the governor today," Nehring said.
Schwarzenegger, in an interview Tuesday afternoon with The Times, said his remarks came in response to a question from Der Spiegel about why his message of bipartisanship would not have been well-received by conservative-minded delegates at the Republican convention. The governor skipped the convention to deal with the budget.
"I think that everyone knows that I'm not a typical Republican because I'm much more in the middle," the governor said. But when it comes to California issues, he said, he has "a very good relationship" with Republican political leaders.
"We get together every so often and talk about how can we work together . . . especially when it comes to election time," Schwarzenegger said. "We see things sometimes differently, especially now when it comes to how to solve the budget, but that doesn't mean we don't respect each other."
Schwarzenegger said that in the interview he was trying to explain American politics to a German audience that doesn't understand it very well.
The interview was so candid that the governor's office initially cast doubt on the accuracy of the translation. But Schwarzenegger later acknowledged making the statements.
"The Germans have no idea how someone like Obama can rise within a short period of time . . . as much as they don't understand that someone like Palin is, you know, all of a sudden accepted and is this huge star," the governor said.
In the German interview, the governor described delegates at the two presidential conventions as "the most hard-core individuals." He said GOP organizers had wanted him to deliver a biographical speech about nominee Sen. John McCain so he wouldn't "go and talk about centrist politics and maybe rub some people the wrong way."
Offering an example of such a comment, Schwarzenegger said he respects Obama, whose candidacy is "a giant leap forward" for the country.
"I think it's incredible that a black man has the chance to become president of the United States," he said. Still, he would never switch to the Democrats "in this life, and definitely not in my next life, or the life after that."
After all, Palin, the governor of Alaska, is "a good-looking woman" who is "feisty," Schwarzenegger said. But he wondered aloud "if there might not be something else discovered about her life that can be used against her."
"It's enough if you had someone at some point in your life working at your house that was an illegal immigrant," Schwarzenegger said, volunteering that he might fall into that category himself: "I've never done a check on the people who work in the garden outside to see if they have their documentation. . . . I mean, who does that?"
Things get blown out of proportion, the governor said. Especially "the story with Palin and her daughter having a baby." He added: "It could happen to my daughter; it could happen to anyone's daughter."