ARNOLD “ARNIE” ALOIS SCHWARZENEGGER
It was almost 18 years ago, on October 7, 2003, that California voters propelled Arnold Schwarzenegger into the Governor’s office following a recall referendum of Governor Gray Davis. Schwarzenegger’s film career was at something of a plateau but his staunch support of the GOP and celebrity status garnered popular attention. His intention to be a candidate in the recall was announced during an appearance on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show. On September 14, 2021, California’s current governor, Gavin Newsome, is the object of a Golden State recall. It may be “then as now” for the voters.
Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger was born in Austria on July 30, 1947, where he commenced body building through weight lifting and other sports to create a path to US residency and citizenship. Along the way, through hard work, he earned a BA degree as he also cultivated his relationships with celebrities in the wrestling and body building fields during a period while living in London. In a variety of interviews, he described a difficult home life as a child, salvaged only by a burning desire to be rich, famous, and living in the United States.
As an action hero film star, his fame and status began to wane along with the successful Terminator franchise. Except for die-hard fans, none of the ten films subsequent to 2003 matched earlier popularity, following his final term as governor in 2011. In 2015, it was announced that he would replace Donald Trump as host of The New Celebrity Apprentice, to air during the 2016-2017 season. Guests were not “fired” but “terminated” by the Terminator. Besieged by criticism from Trump, Arnold announced his decision not to return for a subsequent season.
Aside from a high-profile stint serving as chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports under G.W. Bush, Schwarzenegger’s political depth and experience was thin. His campaign was littered with one-liners from well-known film roles as his alleged use of anabolic steroids plagued his appearances. Accusations of sexual abuse and racism were also made. In the end, however, California voters accepted his promises of reform to replace the scandals that shook the administration of Governor Davis.
One hundred thirty-five (yes, 135) candidates competed in the 2003 recall to replace Davis. Under the terms of the recall legislation, voters are required to express Yes or No with respect to recalling the incumbent, along with selecting a replacement. With 135 candidates to choose from – in a type of rank-choice vote – Schwarzenegger received a 48.6% plurality to succeed Davis. (The second-place finisher, a Democrat, garnered but 31.5% of the vote.) This year’s recall will field only about 41 contestants to be terminated by the voters to arrive at a final decision.
Schwarzenegger was sworn in as the 38th governor of California on November 17, 2003, becoming the first foreign-born chief executive since 1862. During his tenure, he focused on reducing greenhouse emissions, increasing the minimum wage, and reforming the workers’ compensation system. In addition, he emphasized physical education in the schools through the After School Education and Safety Act adopted in 2002.
Under the California Constitution, the governor serves a four-year term, with a maximum or minimum term limit of two four-year terms for life during a person’s lifetime, regardless of whether such terms are consecutive or nonconsecutive. During his first term, Schwarzenegger cultivated his personal and political popularity in preparation for election in November 2006. Forging popular cooperative issues agreeable to Democratic voters, the Terminator won in a landslide against the Democratic candidate, 56% to 39%.
The former governor remains capable of easily capturing media attention. His endorsement of Ohioan John Kasich for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 is an example. In January 2021, as the pandemic raged and vaccine resistance was gaining strength, Schwarzenegger was quoted urging fellow citizens in certain terms with:
Well, my freedom is being kind of disturbed here. No, screw your freedom, because with freedom comes obligations and responsibilities.
Following the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol, he posted a video address in which he likened the insurrection to Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht, which he described as “a night of rampage against the Jews carried out [by] the Nazi equivalent of the Proud Boys.” He spoke of his father’s alcoholism, domestic violence and abuse, and how it was typical of other former Nazis and collaborators in the postwar era, and described Trump as “a failed leader. He will go down in history as the worst president ever.”
As for the milieu of 2021, the Terminator says that Governor Newsom faces a “very dangerous” political situation in his impending recall election saying, “There’s millions of people out there that are dissatisfied, dissatisfied with the way the corona was handled, dissatisfied with the fires, dissatisfied with the blackouts.” He continued, “the atmosphere is exactly the same [as] when I ran,” back in 2003 with voters [who] were getting fed up with energy crises, blackouts, and the state’s straggling economy following the dotcom bust – and blamed Davis for it.”
As it turned out, Mr. Schwarzenegger’s observations about Governor Newsom were wildly off the mark. About 64% of 9.1 million votes cast opposed the recall. Some 2.373 million voted for the Republican replacement but 44% left the choice blank. Politicians are often poor pundits. But politician to the nth degree, the former governor played quarterback a few days later, offering post-recall opinion in a radio interview:
“ think voters made the right decision. It’s better to stay with someone who you know what they’re going to do, rather than someone who comes in wacky and is changing everything around.
Celebrity media reported that Schwarzenegger and his former wife, Maria Shriver, had a net worth of $400 million, indicating that his childhood ambition to be rich, famous, and live in the United States had been fulfilled. The 74-year-old is the father of five children, four from his marriage to Shriver and a fifth, the offspring from a relationship with a household employee. Shriver and the Terminator divorced in July 2011.