The many faces of Arnold

Anthony Pignataro: Unlike his last three predecessors, Arnold Schwarzenegger will make a fascinating subject for a biography after he leaves the governor’s office next year. The former actor and body builder’s politics fall somewhere between “scattered” and “all over the map.” Here are two small examples:

On June 2, Schwarzenegger’s office issued this statement on AB1998, which bans plastic bags from grocery stores, forcing all shoppers to either buy reusable cloth grocery bags or recycled paper bags that cost a nickle each. “I commend the Assembly for passing AB 1998, which would make California the first state in the nation to ban plastic bags. This bill will be a great victory for our environment and I applaud Assemblywoman Brownley for working on this effort.”

Never mind that grocery stores started using plastic bags because of the environmental backlash against tree-killing paper trees (or that trees are a renewable resource, but that’s another story entirely) or that there are biodegradable plastic bags available. Yes, plastic bags harm the environment — but is an outright ban, which will impose some degree of hardship disproportionately on families across the state, the best way to go about getting rid of them?

For those worried about the bill’s impact, Schwarzenegger’s response seems flippant and even a little narcissistic. And yet just a day later, while speaking at a rally of college students, Schwarzenegger cut to the chase on the state’s budget troubles that will infuriate the public employee unions that hold immense power over most of California’s public officials:

“And so I’m not going to sign a budget where we have no reform in the budget or tax reform or also pension reform. I mean, let’s be honest. They’re taking billions of dollars away from education but they’re giving it to the public employees’ pension plan. That pension plan has gone up from $150 million just 10 years ago to $3.2 billion, just in CalPERS alone. Think about that for a second. That’s an increase of 2,000 percent, even though our revenues have only increased by 24 percent. So this is where the money is being taken in order to give it over to the pension.”

So on one hand, Schwarzenegger seems to pander on the issue of grocery bags, yet speaks the truth on the absurdly expensive issue of government pensions, all in one 24 hour period. On balance the state is more doomed than ever, but it’s certainly been a thought-provoking ride.

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