Schwarzenegger Shows That Divas Can’t Govern

Ronald Reagan entered politics after his career in the movie business was over. Even during his heyday at Warner Bros. before World War II, Reagan was never a huge star, but by the 1950’s even his B-movie luminence had faded. (See right, Reagan with co-star of “Bedtime for Bonzo.”) In the 1960’s, he hosted a television show, which was trés de classé in those days. He even tried a Vegas act, and when that bombed he knew his entertainment career was over. Reagan’s career change into politics was probably the best option available to him.

Like Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger was never slated to play Hamlet or win an Oscar, but unlike Reagan, he has starred in some of the biggest box office hits of the last 20 years, and he probably has a few more leading roles in his future. So there has always been a feeling that going into politics is just something Arnold is doing while his real career is on hiatus.

George Skelton, writing in his “Capitol Journal” column in the Los Angeles Times, sums up the governor’s conundrum thusly:

One former advisor to Ronald Reagan, both in Sacramento and Washington, told me that every celebrity candidate must make a transition to political leader. Once in office, he’s simply forced to make too many decisions that are political and create enemies.

“How he makes that transition will determine his success,” says the veteran strategist, who didn’t want to risk irking the governor by being identified.

“By election time next year, Arnold’s going to be viewed more as a political figure than a celebrity. I don’t think he understands that, and that sooner or later he’ll lose the celebrity aura. He still thinks his personality can overcome all this.

“He has wasted away his celebrity status by picking too many fights and picking the wrong fights. He’s got to back off.”

Schwarzenegger would much rather speak at mall rallies or in diners, performing to the wide eyes of adoring admirers and hearing their cheers, than engage in delicate negotiations with adversarial Democrats who no longer are awed.

And who can blame him? Except rolling up his sleeves in Sacramento is what he was elected to do, and did do during his first year in office.

His big victories last year — workers’ comp reform, plus voter approval of a $15-billion deficit reduction bond and a balanced-budget requirement — were the results of bipartisan compromises in the Capitol.

A recent poll by the nonpartisan Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State found that 62% of voters agreed that “he should be putting more effort into working with legislators so he’d get more done.”

But Schwarzenegger’s strength, he and his advisors believe, is rallying the people for his causes at carefully choreographed events. The governor has insisted on retaining the image of political “outsider.”

It’s this attitude that prompted Schwarzenegger and his gurus to begin planning for a 2005 special election even before the balloting last November.

Never mind that the governor, for the most part, still hasn’t taken the time to develop his own specific “reforms” — researched, tested, vetted them — and merely has latched onto other people’s proposals outside his administration.

One — public pension reform — was so flawed he had to scuttle it.

When anybody would ask his strategists and business backers what was the hurry — what was the justification for spending $70 million in tax money on a special election this year when there’ll be regular elections in 2006 — the whispered answer was: This is a moment to seize. Here is a governor so popular that he can sell voters anything with the force of his personality.

People – and I do mean Democrats – are starting to complain that the Governor’s special election this fall is a waste of time – and the $70 million is just a starting point for the cost, as we learned during the Recall when costs to the state continuted to pile up and up.


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