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The Media Is Helping Schwarzenegger Rewrite His Governorship

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The Media Is Helping Schwarzenegger Rewrite His Governorship

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By John Staller

Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks in his keynote about digital sustainability during the Digital X event in Cologne, Germany, on Sept. 7, 2021. (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

If California ever is going to get its act together, it has to deal with the legacy of the damage done by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, to the state as a whole and to the Republican Party in particular. There’s a reason the GOP went into rapid decline in his last years in office and has not recovered. That reason begins with his disastrous seven years in office.

The Financial Times just ran a long, glowing, uncritical puff piece on the aging muscleman, titled, “Arnold Schwarzenegger: ‘I’m not the sort of person who looks back.’ But with two Netflix shows and a retrospective photobook on the way, the actor, bodybuilder and politician is forcing himself to be reflective.” This is just really bad journalism. Thank God we have The Epoch Times.

I understand the star appeal. Back in 2002 and 2003, the editorial board of the Orange County Register met with him two times at the paper’s offices, now closed, on Grand Avenue in Santa Ana. When he arrived, in the large foyer he was greeted by every woman in the building. During the Q&A, he was glib and charming.

But that didn’t stop me from criticizing him, right away over his $550 million “midnight basketball” initiative in 2002, Proposition 49, which led inevitably to tax increases. Then over his $15 billion bond measure in 2004, Proposition 57, which papered over the state’s $40 billion budget deficit and precluded real budget reform, still needed.

Then over his wild overspending in the mid-2000s, which inevitably led to the still-record $13 billion tax increase of 2009. Rep. Tom McClintock said on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 12, 2010, “California’s governor is seeking billions of dollars of additional federal aid to fill his ever-widening budget deficits.

“Last April, he imposed the biggest tax increase by any state in American history, despite repeated warnings of the damage it would do to the state’s economy. California already had the highest sales and income taxes in the nation—he increased both.

“The taxes were supposed to produce $13 billion in additional revenue. But after nine months, California’s sales tax collections are down $270 million; income tax collections are down $10 billion. The only major tax not raised—the corporate tax—is the only tax that’s producing more revenue—up about $2.4 billion in the same period.”

A file photo of former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Ruining the Republican Brand
In 2008, Mr. Schwarzenegger had called for “rebranding” the GOP because “it was dying at the box office.” But as everyone knows, the main plank in the Republican “brand” is low taxes. That partly had been tarnished by Gov. Pete Wilson’s then-record tax increases of $7 billion in 1991. Which, like Mr. Schwarzenegger’s later tax gouging, did not close the deficit of that year, but widened it, when revenues actually dropped from $42 billion in fiscal 1991-92 to $40 billion in 1992-93.

Tax increases obviously discourage creating businesses and jobs, actually reducing tax revenues, as most Republicans know. Govs. Wilson and Schwarzenegger ignored that and damaged both the state and the Republican “brand.”

FT talks about two new Schwarzenegger shows on Netflix and a new retrospective book from Taschen. Fine. He’s a celebrity.

It also brings up something few people know: He all along has wanted to be not just California governor, but president of the United States. I wrote about that in 2010 in my review of “The Governator: From Muscle Beach to His Quest for the White House, the Improbable Rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger,” the excellent biography by Ian Halperin.

He actually thought he could amend the U.S. Constitution to allow foreign-born citizens to run for the highest office. Yet that’s impossible because, first, he would have to convince two-thirds of the U.S. senators to pass an amendment—when most of them cherish presidential ambitions of their own and wouldn’t want competition from a charismatic movie star. Second, it’s nearly impossible to pass a constitutional amendment, especially in the few years he would have needed.

Governorship Summary
Here’s how the FT summarized his “eight years”—actually seven—as governor: “Schwarzenegger left office as California governor in 2011, after serving for eight years. Though a committed Republican, some of his policies were to the left of his party’s, particularly on abortion rights and the environment. He was praised by Democrats, including Barack Obama, for championing green-energy infrastructure and cracking down on tailpipe emissions. Since he has been out of office, the divide between Schwarzenegger’s brand of Left Coast conservatism and the Trump-era party only appears to have grown.”

However, except for his first two years, when he did restrain the budget and canceled recalled Gov. Gray Davis’s illegal car tax edict, he governed as a liberal—and not just by wild spending increases followed by tax increases.

He carpet-bombed the state’s housing stock with two bills he signed into law. The first was Assembly Bill 32, called the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. As its name indicates, it came just before the “global warming” scare phrase was changed to “climate change.” It required sharp reductions in greenhouse gases, increasing the costs of building new housing.

Second was Senate Bill 375 in 2008, which is less well-known, but even more devastating. It required a Sustainable Communities Strategy to encourage denser housing near transportation hubs. That obviously increased the cost of new housing, and put it where the government dictates insisted, instead of where people wanted it. Most people, especially young families, prefer suburban-type housing, which is derided as “sprawl,” to crowded high-rises.

I haven’t seen any analysis of how these two bills have damaged the state’s housing stock. A major analysis needs to be done. However, the Wikipedia article noted, “There have been claims that SB 375 increases pressure from gentrification and does not improve the livelihoods of low-income neighborhoods with higher levels of minority populations. The pressure from gentrification may lead to population migration such that poorer residents may be displaced by wealthy newcomers as a result of the SB 375 investments that fund particular infrastructure and projects in accordance with the bill.”

The reference is to an article, “SB 375 and Racism,” by Kisasi Brooks in the Journal of Racism and Justice in 2009. Mr. Brooks was a field representative to then-state Sen. Loni Hancock.

US actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger holds his autobiography entitled “Total Recall” after a press conference in Paris on Oct. 12, 2012. (Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images)

The FT wrote, “Today, he expresses frustration at the turn in the party since Trump took control. Schwarzenegger has made savvy use of social media to keep his views out there, releasing a video on Twitter in which he decried disinformation and called Trump ‘the worst president ever’ after the 6 January riots in the US Capitol Building.”

I remember that video when it came out on Jan. 10, 2021, just after the Jan. 6 events. The Epoch Times’s Carly Mayberry reported on a June 2023 repeat of the attack, “Movie star and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has once again compared the Jan. 6 capital breach to Kristallnacht, the attack on the Jewish people that ultimately led to the Holocaust.

“Schwarzenegger’s comments came Friday during an episode of CNN’s Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace, when he defended his previous opinion that the two events were similar in that they both occurred because citizens were lied to. ‘The Terminator’ actor, who strongly opposes former President Donald Trump, told Wallace that Americans are being misled the same way his own Nazi father was during World War II.”

As we’re finding out, a better Nazi comparison would be to the Reichstag Fire. Whatever happened on Jan. 6 was confined to the U.S. Capitol, not anywhere else. The Holocaust Encyclopedia described it, “On February 27, 1933, the German parliament (Reichstag) building burned down. The Nazi leadership and its coalition partners used the fire to claim that Communists were planning a violent uprising. They claimed that emergency legislation was needed to prevent this. The resulting act, commonly known as the Reichstag Fire Decree, abolished a number of constitutional protections and paved the way for Nazi dictatorship.”

As we saw recently with the latest indictment of former President Trump, President Biden’s administration is using the Jan. 6 protests to try to jail the existing leader’s main political rival. Former Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith and Harvard law professor wrote in the Aug. 8, 2023 New York Times, “There is no getting around the fact that the indictment comes from the Biden administration when Mr. Trump holds a formidable lead in the polls to secure the Republican Party nomination and is running neck and neck with Mr. Biden, the Democratic Party’s probable nominee. …

“This is all happening against the backdrop of perceived unfairness in the Justice Department’s earlier investigation, originating in the Obama administration, of Mr. Trump’s connections to Russia in the 2016 general election. Anti-Trump texts by the lead F.B.I. investigator, a former F.B.I. director who put Mr. Trump in a bad light through improper disclosure of F.B.I. documents and information, transgressions by F.B.I. and Justice Department officials in securing permission to surveil a Trump associate and more were condemned by the Justice Department’s inspector general even as he found no direct evidence of political bias in the investigation. The discredited Steele dossier, which played a consequential role in the Russia investigation and especially its public narrative, grew out of opposition research by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.”

The FT continues plumping for Mr. Schwarzenegger’s presidential fantasy, “[H]e thinks he could win next year if allowed to run. ‘The field is open right now,’ he told CNN recently, without naming Trump or DeSantis. ‘It’s a no-brainer.’ When I ask Schwarzenegger how he would win, he is all politician. ‘First of all, my message has nothing to do with running or not running,’ he says. ‘My message today is that we have to come together as a country. If we all look at America as a place that we want to be number one in the world, then we have to play ball together. And we will be much more successful.’ Without naming Trump, he decries name-calling and wants to see a return to civility in politics. He talks about old Republican themes like lower taxes and reduced government spending.”

That’s funny. He boosted taxes in California to record highs to pay for his excessive spending. He was unable to resist the maneuvers of the Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature. Hours before he left office, he commuted the sentence of Estaban Nunez, the son of his friend, former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, the author of AB 32, on a murder conviction—to the outrage of the victim’s family and all Californians. Soon after he left office, it was revealed he had impregnated the family maid in his marriage bed, leading his wife, Maria, to divorce him.

He left office having “terminated” the Republican Party of California, leaving the state with one-party rule. Since he left office, the state’s previous rapid population growth stalled, going from 37.6 million in 2011 to 38.9 million today—and actually declining the past two years. As the FT and other mainstream media are rehabilitating Arnold Schwarzenegger, let us remember the real record.