Bill Whalen

How serious is Schwarzenegger on redistricting?

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, right, introduces Ohio Gov. John Kasich during a GOP presidential primary rally in March 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. Bill Whalen says Schwarzenegger might get involved in Ohio’s redistricting fight.
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, right, introduces Ohio Gov. John Kasich during a GOP presidential primary rally in March 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. Bill Whalen says Schwarzenegger might get involved in Ohio’s redistricting fight. Associated Press file

As my faithful chocolate lab approaches a 10th birthday, an apology is in order. For the past decade, I’ve denied him a sibling – a rival with whom to tug on ropes, test wills and ultimately decide who’s the alpha dog.

Canine psychology may explain the odd coupling that is Donald Trump and Arnold Schwarzenegger – “deplorable” meets “expendable.” Do they exchange brickbats via Twitter and over the transom because they can’t decide who’s the top dog or who can bark the loudest?

Trump, I’m not worried about. He has a day job (presumably) for another three years and 10 months, not that anyone’s counting. And Arnold? His imdb.com page shows four movies announced and another three either completed or in post-production. He’ll be back – on the red carpet.

It’s Schwarzenegger’s next political move that bears watching. Now that we’ve tabled the notion of the U.S. Senate – he isn’t a bit player in a film featuring 99 bad actors – does our former governor seriously intend to make redistricting reform a greater part of his legacy, as he did in California with the passage of Proposition 11 in 2010 that entrusted the process to a nonpartisan commission?

Schwarzenegger can decry the ugliness of the status quo all he wants. In 2016, supposedly a “change” election, 380 of 393 U.S. representatives, 27 of 29 senators and 4 of 5 governors all won another term.

But how much weight is the seven-time Mr. Olympia willing to put on the bar?

The easiest lift is meddling in Ohio’s redistricting process because he has a kindred spirit in that state’s current governor, John Kasich, who, like Schwarzenegger, wants to leave office on a reformist note, and otherwise torment Trump.

Besides, Ohio voters started down this path in 2015 by approving a ballot measure that made the shaping of legislative districts more bipartisan. The question in 2017: Will another initiative apply to congressional districts, or will lawmakers seek to appease voters with their own plan that conveniently delays any real change for another decade?

But if Schwarzenegger wants to pump some real iron in 2018, there are the 36 gubernatorial races that will be crucial to the next round of redistricting. In 26 of those states, the Legislature draws the lines while the governor has some veto power. And Republicans hold 20 of those 26 governorships, which should appeal to Schwarzenegger’s non-conformist nature.

Republicans also control 69 of 99 legislative chambers, and both houses and the governor’s office in 25 states. In 2009, Barack Obama entered the White House accompanied by 28 Democratic governors. Two years later, the number fell to 26. Now, it’s 16, the fewest since 1922. That’s Democratic ineptitude, not Republican skullduggery.

Getting involved in governor’s races won’t make Schwarzenegger popular in conservative circles. Then again, that train left the station long ago – well after his embrace of climate change and high-speed rail.

But it will make him a rare political commodity – a bodybuilder-turned-statesman willing to flex his political muscle rather than merely strike a pose. And with all due respect to “The Expendables 4” and other movies in the making, that’s a better role than anything you’ll find on Schwarzenegger’s imdb.com page these days.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at whalenoped@gmail.com.

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