Having ended his run on “The New Celebrity Apprentice,” California’s former Mr. Olympia-action star-governor evidently has a little time on his hands, and wants to do more than joust with the Tweeter-in-Chief.
The other day, Politico reported speculation that Arnold Schwarzenegger, the last Republican to win statewide office in California, might run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Dianne Feinstein in 2018. It read like a trial balloon. People I know who are close to him doubt he will run, as do I.
His poll numbers had tanked by the time he left office in 2011. Even if he were to turn that around, Schwarzenegger lives large and would have a hard time serving as one of 100, especially one who would be the junior senator from California, with less seniority than Kamala Harris.
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But many old politicians find that they never quite get over it. And so there Schwarzenegger is, giving interviews and tweeting about the notion of spreading redistricting reform to other states.
“Really great having a stogie. Let’s take redistricting reform nationwide,” the cigar-loving former body-builder tweeted last week. Yeah, it was a non sequitur. But Schwarzenegger’s career never really followed a set path.
His legacy as governor was mixed. He entered office by cutting taxes and promising to cut up the credit cards, and left a $28 billion deficit for Jerry Brown, who was forced to appeal to voters to pass the largest tax hike in California history.
But he left more behind than most – and not just the huge bronze bear outside the governor’s suite, which is known as Bacteria Bear because visiting school kids pet it when they tour the Capitol, or the portrait that hangs in the Capitol.
Schwarzenegger persuaded voters to approve two of the most significant political reforms in California governance in my years following such matters.
One is the top-two primary system, which helped give rise to more moderate Democrat and Republican legislators, who occasionally manage to temper their more liberal and conservative colleagues.
More significantly, he put his weight behind initiatives that stripped legislators of their power to draw boundaries for legislative and congressional districts, and created the independent California Citizens Redistricting Commission.
Redistricting may seem dull and arcane, until you see the impact. As a result of redistricting reform, as many as a dozen congressional seats are competitive in California, more by far than in any other state. The one way to break partisan gridlock is to take the redistricting show on the road.
“The average margin of victory in the House of Representatives was 37%. There are dictators who win by less,” he tweeted. And this: “Both parties are incredibly skilled at screwing over the voters and keeping us in the dark. Not anymore.”
A friend of his told me he has watched the increased activism since Donald Trump’s election, and is mulling over how best to channel that. Running for office is not the only way to bring about change. Maybe he could team up with his friend, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, another Republican who advocates redistricting reform.
Schwarzenegger sits in his Santa Monica office surrounded by Conan’s sword and other memorabilia from his movies, clearly alarmed by the country’s direction and the current occupant of the Oval Office.
“You should think about hiring a new joke writer and a fact checker,” he tweeted earlier this month.
That was in response to Trump, who took time away from running the world’s most powerful nation to tweet: “Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show”
How Trump’s run as president ends is to be determined. But my guess is that Schwarzenegger’s show is not yet over; he will be back.