GOP Disappointed In Schwarzenegger

The Governator will not be missed, apparently.

Republicans, both in California and nationwide, aren’t associating themselves with the guy that some thought would resurrect the Republican Party in California:

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — When Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, the Dream Team of the California GOP, joined hands at a rally celebrating their primary victories this month, there was one broad-shouldered Republican conspicuously missing from the scene: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Organizers said the actor-turned-politician declined an invitation to the event. The truth is, he would not have been welcome. After nearly six years in office, Schwarzenegger has few friends left in either party. The state budget deficit hovers around $20 billion; his approval rating has sunk below 25 percent.

“We thought he was going to be a great governor, but he has been a great disappointment,” said Geneviève M. Clavreul, a Republican activist.

As candidates in races across the country try to position themselves as the politician with the least political experience, Schwarzenegger’s troubles in California illustrate some of the possible downsides of outsiderdom. Like Whitman, the GOP’s candidate for governor, and Fiorina, the party’s Senate nominee, Schwarzenegger came to office as a non-politician who would solve problems with unconventional ideas.

He had some successes, but the movie star stumbled as he tried to navigate the state’s political establishment, with its touchy egos and endless compromises. He floundered as he tried to tame the state’s runaway budget and push through ambitious reforms such as universal health care.

Part of Schwarzenegger’s initial appeal — he spoke bluntly and his politics were sometimes hard to pin down — made it difficult for him to build a deep base of support. He lost the trust of the conservative wing of the GOP by supporting gay rights and stronger environmental laws. He alienated just about everybody by supporting a tax increase last year.

“I’m a Democrat, and I have been a huge Arnold Schwarzenegger fan,” said Robert Hertzberg, a former speaker of the California assembly. “He represented a fusion of ideas, but when it came to the day-to-day governing, he struggled.”

Honestly, I’m not sure why anyone in Sacramento, or anywhere else, should be surprised. Prior to being elected Schwarzenegger proved himself to be a popular spokesman for the GOP, but that was mostly because of his celebrity status and the fact that he was married to a member of the Kennedy family. Unlike, say, the Ronald Reagan of “A Time For Choosing,” he showed no real interest in, or grasp of, big ideas, and there wasn’t much evidence that he would be a competent Governor. In fact, but for the fact of the recall election that ousted Gray Davis, it’s unlikely that Schwarzenegger would have ever become Governor.

The Schwarzenegger experience brings into question the whole idea of whether electing the “outsider” is really such a good idea after all. Despite his Republican credentials, Schwarzenegger had absolutely no allies when he arrived in Sacramento and that, along with his inexperience in navigating state politics, meant that his ability to accomplish anything is extremely limited.

It also brings into question the whole idea of whether California itself has become ungovernable in some sense and why someone like Meg Whittman would want to step into that morass in Sacramento

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    Arnold just turned out to be a moderate pragmatist … with a legislature filled, in classic barbell manner, with “hold the line” types on right and the left.

    My friends down in the OC tend to be rightists who think that if Arnold had just been more hard right he could have done it. If you remind them about the legislature (with leftists largely coming from the north of the state), they’d just say “well, they should be more right too.”

    In other words, they hold to their end of the barbell, completely blind to the fact that they are continuing a sick sort of status quo. They want to hold doggedly right until the rest of the state changes. They can’t see that others (up north) might be doggedly holding left in the same way.

    So I don’t blame Schwarzenegger at all. I think he was often the most reasonable voice in the debate. It’s just that no one wanted to hear reason.

  2. Juneau: says:

    Yeah, he struggled California right to the brink of insolvency. He acted at being a conservative just enough to be elected, just as Obama acted at being a moderate for the same reasons.

  3. Juneau: says:

    “Arnold just turned out to be a moderate pragmatist”

    What, in any possible sense of the word, is pragmatic about spending yourself into near-oblivion without a murmur until you find yourself writing IOUs to cover the unsustainable debts incurred by the 10th largest economy in the world?

  4. john personna says:

    Juneau, can you name a spending program that Schwarzenegger initiated?

    What you are talking about there is the left end of the barbell (voted in by the north end of the state) spending, while the right end of the barbell (voted in by the south end of the state) limited spending.

    There were enough wish-washy people in the middle, who liked spending but disliked taxes, to make the dysfunction stick.

  5. john personna says:

    (Schwarzenegger tried to inch down spending while inching up taxes. It is the moderate way to balance the real difference in north/south consensus. He’d hated for it, by both sides.)

  6. john personna says:

    ouch “while the right end of the barbell (voted in by the south end of the state) limited [taxes].”

  7. Juneau: says:

    Juneau, can you name a spending program that Schwarzenegger initiated?

    Your perspective is skewed. It’s what he didn’t rein in, not what he initiated. He didn’t rein in the state worker’s union pension funds, the teacher’s union pension funds, he allowed the environmental wackos to cripple significant portions of his state’s economy, and most importantly, didn’t step in with the power of the Governor to cut the crippling business taxes in the state. That’s why businesses are fleeing to Nevada. No business, no jobs. No money, No problem! We’ll write IOUs. This is pragmatic?

  8. john personna says:

    In other words, no, you cannot name any spending Schwarzenegger initiated.

    You blame him, as I said above, for the consensus of the north. You have what I consider a childish politics. You think everything would be alright if everyone agreed with you. You can’t handle a government that actually integrates divergent opinion.

    You know, if I were “budget czar” I’d take a knife to a lot of those same programs you name. I’m just mature enough to know I’m not czar, and that’s not the way democracy works.

  9. john personna says:

    (If you are waiting for Berkeley to become (politically) Newport Beach, you’ll be waiting until hell freezes over.)

  10. Juneau: says:

    You have what I consider a childish politics

    No, childish is thinking that “we have to entertain divergent opinions.” You can have any opinion you want, just stay out of my way as I fix the problem. As a leader, when the rubber meets the road and the state’s back is to the wall, you don’t have the luxury of catering to all the divergent opinions.

    Let the voters see who stands for what. They’re supposed to be the ultimate boss anyway. Leadership is doing the right thing even if you don’t win the day. This is one of the main problems with the modern politician. More concerned about press and safe posturing than fighting for something. Christie in NJ seems to handling the pressure and taking care of the problems (which in NJ are legendary).

    In other wordsYou don’t have to agree with me or my policies

  11. john personna says:

    Ok (he typed patiently), bu you haven’t really explained to me how you are going to change the status-quo.

    Southern Californian conservatives have been saying “fix it by cutting spending” for years and years. Schwarzenegger himself proposed dozens of spending cuts that were rejected by the legislature. He finally had to go to executive mandates which were at the fringes of legality.

    As long as the north (generally speaking) balances that, there will be no movement.

  12. john personna says:

    (If there were a Californian liberal here, who said we should fix it all by raising taxes, I’d give him the same dose of reality, that it isn’t going to happen, because the south won’t stand for it.)

  13. First, I have never understood why anyone actually expected a Republican governor of California to be anything other than a right-leaning but otherwise moderate pragmatist.

    Second, the structural problems in California have far less to do with the governor’s office and everything to do with decades of a process in which fiscal policy (taxing and spending) require 2/3rd supermajorities in the Assembly. Such an institutional environment incentivizes increased spending over time without adequate revenue to pay for it. Because, in simple terms, it is easier to construct a supermajority to spend than it is to construct one for fiscal restraint/revenue generation. This problem has been a long time coming.

  14. As I recall, the number of California state employees rose considerably while Schwarzenegger was governor, but I don;t have the numbers right at hand. That is something directly under his control.

  15. Juneau: says:

    Such an institutional environment incentivizes increased spending over time without adequate revenue to pay for it.

    You still don’t get it. You don’t have to spend more money. Really, you don’t. If you want to adjust for inflation, fine, you can call that spending “increase.” Just. Don’t. Spend. More. Money.

    I have to face the reality that my credit cards only have a certain limit. When they tap out, I’m tapped out. Can’t spend more. Period. When government gets the idea through their head that the people are not just an ATM machine put there for their use and enjoyment, then maybe they can join the rest of us in this thing we call reality.

    And the above doesn’t even begin to address the fact that what governments call a spending “cut” is not even really a cut at all. It is only a reduction in the amount of INCREASE for spending in next year’s budget. Madoff was a piker compared to most state legislatures, including California.

  16. Steven,

    I agree with everything you said, but would add that the mandated spending from the voter referendums (referenda?) needs to be killed as well. Voters can mandate spending that the legislature can’t tinker with and the effect has been to render large parts of the budget untouchable.

    The institutional problems in California are too big to be overcome by one person. If those things were fixed, then a strong governor could get on to things like freezing or reducing the number of state employees, etc. For now, nothing will happen. I wouldn’t want that job even if it were offered to me and I don’t understand why anyone else would. Anyone who gets it will almost certainly fail.

  17. john personna says:

    Steven, with the California Senate 64% Democrat, and the Assembly 63% Democrat, it’s hard to think the spending is just coming from structure and not politics.

    Indeed, remove those supermajoritiy rules and keep that party balance, and we’d just have higher taxes.

    (We’d probably look more like Oregon. Perhaps these coastal states have the tax rates they do, because they can. Not because people like the taxes, but because they like the place so darn much. I mean, I could move to Arizona … but then I’d be in Arizona.)

  18. john personna says:

    Robert, I agree that the ballot initiative process should be overhauled, but the sad thing is that those things pass because so many people like them. It was astonishing to me that voters added high speed rail in the middle of a budget crisis, but they did:

  19. Eric Florack says:

    What we have here, is the realization that star power doesn’t make up for a lack of conservatism. Perhaps more correctly, it should be said that the republican party thought itself best served by centrists. Schwarzenegger is perhaps the best example of how untrue that line of non thought is.

  20. John,

    I looked at the link and it seems like a nice idea, if you can afford it. The voters also approved a bond issue at the same time, which is good. Where the other 75% of the funding will come from seems a little vague.

    Of course the things the voters put in place are popular, but voters can put things into place without considering other state obligations. The whole process strikes me as a bad idea. Rather than overhauling it, they should end it. Have a referendum if you want, but don’t allow it to ever mandate spending.

  21. john personna says:

    Robert, well you know, bond issue == state debt. For a long time they were sold as “free.”

    Eric, what are you going to do, magic away that 64% democratic advantage in the legislature?

  22. John,

    I know you’re addressing Eric, but even given everything I’ve said (removing the 2/3rd’s requirement, etc.), it doesn’t even bother me that the Democrats have a 64% advantage. At least in an environment where the legislature can control state spending, they could fix things. I probably wouldn’t like their solutions, but I would love the idea of the party in control owning their actions unambiguously. What they have now is a circular firing squad with everyone point their guns at each other and no one is clearly to blame.

  23. superdestroyer says:

    Gov. Schwarzenegger has been a proponent of open borders and unlimited immigraiton at the same time that uncontrolled illegal immigration from Mexico has created huge demands for state government spending while generating little if any new taxes.

    As long as California has money to pay entitlements to illegal aliens, there is obviously enough money in the system. Until California gets realistic about its spending and the causes of the spending, then nothing can be done.

  24. superdestroyer,

    That sounds more like an argument for a Value Added Tax (VAT) than anything else. He has no control over the border; it’s a federal job. A VAT would insure that everyone pays, including illegals.

  25. RW Rogers says:

    While I have no great love for the GOP members of the California legislature, I do find arguments that they and the 2/3 majority required to pass the annual budget are the the primary cause of California’s problems today remarkably ill-informed. California government spending has significantly outpaced both inflation and population growth combined for decades. In 1977, Californians paid approximately $791 per person in state and local taxes. In 2008, that figure was $3,683 per person. Had spending increased only at the rate of inflation during that time, Californians would be paying $2,810 per person today. In other words, government spending per person in California increased by around 70% OVER the rate of inflation during those 30 years. (NOTE 1: Republicans held the governorship for almost 22 of those years. NOTE 2: As this covers both state & local government taxes and spending, the argument that, if not for Proposition 13, California would be healthier and wealthier, not to mention wiser, appears to be invalid.)

    Data Source: The Tax Foundation

  26. RW,

    I guess my next question would be, how much of that increase is attributable to the spending initiatives? I agree with what you said about the growth of spending; if it had stuck to real GDP growth per capita, they would be much better off.

  27. One other thing: the problem isn’t just the 2/3 requirement. It’s a confluence of that requirement and voter mandated spending that makes it impossible to assess blame. That’s the main problem.

  28. @Juneau:

    You still don’t get it. You don’t have to spend more money. Really, you don’t. If you want to adjust for inflation, fine, you can call that spending “increase.” Just. Don’t. Spend. More. Money.

    In fairness, no, you don’t get it insofar as while it is true that “you don’t have to spend more money” in a generic sense, the state does have to pass a budget every year. To pass said budget in CA you have to have 67% agreement. To get that agreement deals are struck. It is easier in that context to strike deals that increase spending than it is to strike deals that keep it steady or decrease it. One doesn’t have to like it or want it to be that way, but it nonetheless is. It is, as I said, a structural problem that has helped bring CA to the point that it is at.

  29. @RW: Help me out here: how does the data you cite prove that the criticisms of the Prop 13 are incorrect? The increases you cite took place under the structural conditions created by Prop 13, and yet that proves that the criticism thereof are unsound?

  30. RW Rogers says:


    The only voter-approved spending initiative of which I am aware that theoretically impacted state spending during this time is The California Mandatory Education Spending Act (Proposition 98), approved in 1988, which mandates 40% of the <b<state budget be spent on education. California currently spends about 50% of its budget on education, so it seems to me it would be hard to argue that they would be spending less if it had not passed. All of the other initiatives I know about, such as Proposition 10 which passed in 1998, are paid for by additional taxes or fees and not from general fund revenues.

  31. RW Rogers says:


    It seems to me that the growth in state and local government per capita spending as evidenced, dramatically outstripping the rate of inflation, effectively undercuts the argument that the passage of Proposition 13 is responsible for the state’s current financial woes. California state & local taxes per capita were the 4th highest in the nation in 1977. Proposition 13 was approved by the voters in 1978. 30 years later, in 2007, California state & local taxes per capita were the 4th highest in the nation. California was 6th in 2008. There is no reason to believe that overall state and local government revenue would be significantly different had Proposition 13 not passed. Taxes tend to reach an equilibrium over time.

  32. RW Rogers says:

    BTW, Steven, in RE:

    To get that agreement deals are struck. It is easier in that context to strike deals that increase spending than it is to strike deals that keep it steady or decrease it.

    I agree with the first sentence, although that’s true just to get 50%+1 as well. As to the second, do you have any specific examples of spending increases agreed to in any California budget negotiations that would not have been agreed to had not there been a need for a 2/3 majority? There may well be, but I’m hard-pressed to think of any at the moment.

    A further aside: I wasn’t a fan of Prop. 13 in 1978 at that time as I believed it would ultimately destroy effective local control. IMO, that has happened. That is a different proposition entirely, however, than the contention that Proposition 13 adversely affected the future combined revenues of state and local government. As the data shows, California spending has easily kept pace with spending in other states during that 30 year period, despite the fact that most of the other states had no such “limitations” imposed by the voters. If Proposition 13 has had such a damaging effect, one would expect its rank in per capita spending to much lower today. It is not because it did not.

  33. Juneau: says:

    To get that agreement deals are struck

    What I still hear in this is a defense of the status quo. It’s being excused as inevitable, as if you just have to do it in order to perform the basic tasks of governance. Tell me one thing. If the GOP in CA would have just said “we will not support more unfunded spending” and if Arnold had supported that, and the Dems still got their spending through, what would be different about their situation today?

    In other words, what would it have hurt for the GOP to stand their ground and say, “Fine. But you’re going to have to do it without us.” I submit to you that the Democrats in CA would be sucking huge wind right now , and the voters would know exactly who put them in the current situation. Now the CA GOP is just as guilty as the Dems, and deserve to be castigated for their lack of courage and leadership.

    Berkley or no Berkley, Californians know that somebody screwed the pooch to put them where they’re at, and if they don’t get new blood and new priorities in office, then the state is going to be about half the population in 10 years.

  34. the state is going to be about half the population in 10 years.

    Ehh, maybe. I’ve been hearing the same thing since the early 90s. It is worse this time, but I suspect they’ll find a way to struggle through. As long as they don’t do it with a federal bailout it’s their problem.

  35. wr says:

    Juneau — If the entire (minority) Republican party had dug in its heels and refused to sign onto any budget the Democratic majority could live with, the state would have shut down. Which is what did happen for a few weeks last year. I’m sure a fine fellow such as yourself has no problem with thousands of state employees suddenly not getting paychecks, because to a rugged individualist all those teachers, cops, firefighters, maintenance workers, doctors and all the rest are just parasites sucking away your freedom. Of course parks would shut down, but you have a back yard, and only poor people and hippies use parks. Hospitals would close, and yes, people would die, but you would have to pay as much in taxes, so you’d be okay.

    Here’s the good news about California, Juneau: You’re in the minority here. The majority of the state’s citizens actually care about other people, not just about how much they pay in taxes. They don’t want to see people thrown out of their homes, the don’t want to see sick people refused dialysis, they don’t want to see the state turned into a libertarian hellhole where the rich can have everything they want and anyone else has to realize they’re just not good enough to deserve a decent life.

    You want to live like that? Move to Texas. You’ll like it there. But on your way, you might ask yourself why that state, with its lower taxes and “freedom” from government is also running an $18 billion deficit.

  36. An Interested Party says:

    “But on your way, you might ask yourself why that state, with its lower taxes and ‘freedom’ from government is also running an $18 billion deficit.”

    Perhaps he/she thinks that is the fault of illegals…

  37. sam says:

    As Steve and Robert point out upthread, California’s problems are structural. I mean, you have an initiative process that allows the citizens to circumvent the legislator and pass tax cuts while simultaneously passing new spending programs, plus a supermajority requirement for passing anything budgetary through the legislature. What could go right with that?