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Patt Morrison Asks

Arnold Schwarzenegger: It's a wrap

January 01, 2011|Patt Morrison

The governor who needs no introduction is now in need of a sendoff. Seven years after the flukiest of political events put him in Sacramento as the state's chief executive, Arnold Schwarzenegger, arguably one of California's quirkiest Republicans, is handing the top job over to one of its quirkiest Democrats -- Jerry Brown. As befits a larger-than-life state, its over-the-top movie star governor has presided over immense budget deficits and scored some legislative triumphs, like the bill that mandates cuts in greenhouse gases. He has also, mirabile dictu, gotten Californians to use a word as long as his surname: "infrastructure." As Schwarzenegger departs Sacramento's 95814 and returns to the 90210, he leaves with approval ratings about as low as the man he booted from office, and with unflagging Schwarzeneggerian enthusiasm for whatever's next. The big-picture matters of his legacy are under scrutiny elsewhere in this newspaper; this interview is about the details.

Is there one thing that as a former governor you'll be so thrilled not to have to do or say, laugh at or kiss or eat again?

I think that when you represent yourself, you are much freer. You still can't say everything that comes to your mind. But when you represent 38 million people, you've got to be a little bit more careful and considerate, even though I'm a loose cannon and I say sometimes things that I regret a little bit later on.

But I think that you do live under that pressure, there's no two ways about that. But I learned how to be disciplined -- I only blew it a few times! Not many times. But I'm glad that I can start talking again exactly what comes to my mind.

What kind of change will this mean for your family? Your kids have grown up while you've been governor -- your elder daughter even published a self-help book.

When I got into this job, my wife didn't like it; my kids didn't like it. My wife didn't like it because she comes from a political family and she felt that it always has terrible side effects on children. It had terrible side effects on her. And so she didn't want me to get into it.

The kids felt very strongly that they wanted to continue visiting me on a set; they liked doing their homework on the set, in the trailer, and to watch me blow up buildings and do stunts and do all the things that they enjoyed watching.

Then as the years went by, they got interested in what I'm doing [as governor]. They started learning in school about government, about politics, the differences in the state, the federal government, the local, and all of a sudden they started coming home with questions: They have to write a paper about the election; they have to write a paper about this initiative. They're getting into this.

Now they feel upset because I'm leaving Sacramento. They thought, "Gee, we finally got used to it, and enjoying the work you're doing, and now you're getting out of it. You've got to go to Europe and run for president of Europe!"

Was there a moment early on that made you realize, "I'm really the governor"?

There's something very odd about all of this in the beginning, of course. You see that the laws that you signed have an immediate effect, a lot of them; and the legislative leaders come to your office and have meetings, and what you say has an effect on the outside world; that you have the power of making big changes, whether it's environmental changes or education changes or economic changes.

The first hour you walk into this office, you get the feeling that this office comes with tremendous power but also at the same time with limited powers because it's not a one-man show. For instance, when you say, I want to change the tax system, you still need the 120 legislators to agree with you, and they all have their own ideas of how it should be changed.

Democracy has its strengths and advantages but also some disadvantages -- that you have these 120 legislators, in our case. Imagine if you were writing a story and someone says, "Oh, before you write your first word, let's talk about that."

It's more difficult but it's doable. You just can't get all the things done that you set out to do. I couldn't get all the things done that I set out to do.

Is there a difference between political celebrity and movie celebrity, between people yelling at you at a Lakers game, as happened recently, and criticizing your films?

I'm pretty good at not taking it personally. If you have a movie critic writing [favorably] about your movie, you feel ecstatic. If a writer who covers politics writes [favorably] about your policy, some change you've created, you feel ecstatic. And if you get attacked, then you don't feel so great about it. I'm not taking it personally, I just think, "Oh, that person doesn't agree with me."

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