Farewell Arnie: The Governator Leaves Office
If life is a theatre, Californian politics has provided one of its greatest stages. In cinematic terms, the state has seen the likes of Ronald Reagan and, most recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 2003, Hollywood's muscle bound creature, termed a condom stuffed with nuts by critic Clive James, beat such contenders as Gary Coleman, Larry Flynt and Angelyne to become the state's 38th governor. That election was itself unprecedented, made to recall the deeply unpopular Gov. Gray Davis. Exeunt Davis, enter Hollywood action hero and redeemer.
His appearance in the State capitol was a curiosity, a figure deemed a messiah who might provide suitable remedies to a deeply flawed patient. Despite being a fiscal conservative of the Republican stock he also supported gun control and gay rights. Strong words followed his arrival to power. 'I will not rest until our fiscal house is in order. I will not rest until California is a competitive job-creating machine. I will not rest until the people of California come to see their government as a partner in their lives, and not a roadblock to their dreams.' The partnership started in rocky fashion, with the governor immediately slashing the infamous car tax, thereby leaving a considerable hole in finances.
The 'governator' leaves the state in a mess after its own manner. Byron Williams of the San Jose Mercury News (Jan 2) was less deprecating, calling his legacy that of a 'mixed bag'. More time was needed to evaluate his legacy. In public terms, the richest state in the United States leads in the mismanagement of its own finances. It's lawmakers neither knows how to finance, to spend, or to save. It has the country's lowest credit rating, with a wholesome budget shortfall of $28 billion.
Personality is no substitute for reality, and any belief that Schwarzenegger's own style might sway the state purse was delusional. The governor himself lamented the state of affairs, saying on November 26, 2008 that it was 'like Kindergarten up there, where they point fingers at each other.' In the end, whatever the voters thought and how the fingers pointed, the governor leaves office with an approval rating of a meager 23 percent.
After 2005, with yet another election called, his star waned. The unions were irate, as one of the measures proposed was designed to target spending dues on politics. The other measures seemed confused, ill-directed, and only one had anything to do with the budget. Their defeat diminished his aura. He lost allies on all sides of politics. He lost even more in 2009 with a dramatic reduction of finance for public schools and social programs.
The slate is not, however, crowded by negativity. Schwarzenegger did take steps to be the 'green' governor, signing in a bill regulating greenhouse gas emissions. By 2020, a third of California's energy must come from renewable energy sources. In terms of infrastructure, he also undertook to implement a $40 billion infrastructure program targeting roads, bridges and levees.
When Schwarzenegger ran for office, he considered it most gravely, the 'hardest' in fact 'except the one in 1978' when he decided to 'get a bikini wax'. He then considered the idea of not merely moving boxes around in terms of reorganizing government but 'blowing them up'.
Nothing of the sort happened. More boxes were created, and others shifted about with mixed success. In doing so, he added another chapter to a dysfunctional state of affairs, with improvements that will be hard to gauge for years to come. But what his tenure has proven is that California is nigh ungovernable, with its lawmakers and residents intent on continuing that badge of honor. The 'girlie men', as Schwarzenegger termed the lawmakers, will be pleased.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org