AB32, Trump help Schwarzenegger repair reputation

In 2011, after his seven-year run as governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger had plenty of reasons to worry about how his time in elected office might be remembered. It wasn’t just that he was widely viewed as an under-performing leader who never lived up to his early promise as a brash outsider who would tackle unaddressed state problems. An ugly scandal broke in his final days in office, triggering a political firestorm, and an even more embarrassing scandal emerged soon afterward.

On his last night as governor, Schwarzenegger commuted the prison sentence of Esteban Nuñez – the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, his friend and occasional political ally – from 16 years to 7 years for his manslaughter conviction in the killing of a San Diego college student. Schwarzenegger initially characterized the sentence as extreme, given that the student died after being knifed by another man. But in an interview with Newsweek three months later, he said he commuted the sentence because “of course you help a friend.” The younger Nuñez is now a free man as a result.

In May 2011, as his celebrity marriage to Maria Shriver collapsed amid intense gossip, Schwarzenegger admitted to fathering a 13-year-old boy with Mildred Baena, long a maid at his Brentwood estate. The revelation triggered headlines around the world.

Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez cited both scandals in a scathing column that saw them as evidence that Schwarzenegger “has always seemed to live in his own celebrity world by his own twisted rules of privilege and entitlement, his life an orgy of self-glory.”

Legacy play pays off in big way

But six summers later, such harsh rebukes are hard to find. Instead, Schwarzenegger’s image has been resurrected to a considerable degree. His 2006 legacy play – shepherding Assembly Bill 32 to passage to make a California a pioneer in targeting and reducing the greenhouse gases believed to help cause global warming – has paid immense dividends.

This was on display last week when Gov. Jerry Brown featured Schwarzenegger at the signing ceremony for legislation extending the state’s cap-and-trade program for emissions that was established by AB32, with the men swapping praise for being leaders on what they called the world’s most pressing issue.

Last October, on the 10th anniversary of AB32’s signing, Schwarzenegger was also featured at an event organized by the governor’s office.

This was nothing new for the Austrian-born movie star, who’s been feted around the world for his environmental leadership. The praise is usually unstinting, and doesn’t note interesting nuances about AB32’s actual record – starting with the fact that the main reason for declining emissions in California in recent years is not the landmark law but the increased use of cheap, relatively clean natural gas, a fossil fuel of the sort the law targets. In 2015, Forbes said natural gas – not renewable energy – was “easily California’s most important source of energy.”

But now Schwarzenegger finds himself winning praise for another reason: His history offers an easy way for journalists to make the point that President Donald Trump doesn’t speak for all Republicans when he either questions whether climate change is real or opposes ameliorative efforts by the government to reduce its effects. A Nexis news database search shows major publications from Los Angeles to New York to London to Singapore have regularly made this point since Trump’s inauguration.

Schwarzenegger directly sought to promote this narrative with his late June visit to Paris to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and jointly criticize Trump for his decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord signed by President Obama in December 2015. Schwarzenegger used social media – including the image shown above – to publicize his meeting with Macron.

“One man cannot destroy our progress,” said Schwarzenegger, who turned 70 on Sunday. “One man can’t stop our clean energy revolution. And one man can’t go back in time.” He laughed heartily at Macron’s mocking Trump for not wanting to “make the planet great again.”

His new cause: redistricting reform

Now Schwarzenegger is trying to build on another of his accomplishments while governor. He led the successful push for Proposition 11 in 2008 and Proposition 20 in 2010 to assign redistricting duties for state and congressional districts to a nonpartisan commission and intends to lobby for similar reforms in other states. His official website declares “let’s shine a light on gerrymandering,” which has been blamed for increasing partisanship and discouraging moderates of both parties by packing voters with similar views into uncompetitive districts.

Schwarzenegger “has a Terminate Gerrymandering Crowdpac that he’s pledged to match dollar-for-dollar,” Politico reported last week. “He’ll be appearing at events, meeting with lawyers, having his team jump in to rewrite incomprehensible charts of the ‘efficiency gap’ and other technicalities ahead of Gill v. Whitford, the Wisconsin gerrymandering challenge that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg … called ‘the most important’ case of the Supreme Court’s next term.”

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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