Schwarzenegger's Star Faded, Brown Returns for a Sequel

As California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger leaves office Monday, observers in Sacramento are pondering how the governor who rode a wave of popular support and anti-incumbent sentiment during a recall election in 2003 now is leaving office as an unpopular incumbent whose legacy remains up in the air.

The former action star took office by ousting Governor Gray Davis in a rare recall election, beating not only Davis but also a field of 135 other would-be executives. "I'd never been around that kind of star power before," former state Senate leader Don Perata, a Democrat, told National Public Radio . "I was really stunned by the way people reacted to him and the enormity of his popularity."

Early on, Schwarzenegger promised to "blow up the boxes" of state government. But instead, he found himself boxed in by the same recurring issues that have restricted his predecessors, including a persistent budget deficits, a stringent cap on property taxes and voter initiatives that restrict options for policymakers in Sacramento, the Wall Street Journal notes.

"It's true that we did not blow up all the boxes I intended to blow up. It was more difficult than I thought," Schwarzenegger told the Journal .

Schwarzenegger hired a Democrat, Susan Kennedy, as a chief of staff to help him to recover from the 2005 special elections. Kennedy told The Associated Press that Schwarzenegger had to rework the political process itself. "He comes into office as an outsider saying 'I'm going to blow up the boxes,' and he gets to Sacramento and he realizes that the Legislature is the biggest box. The process itself is the box. So to get anything done, he had to blow up the political process."  

Schwarzenegger squandered much of his popularity by pushing a series of ballot measures in 2005 that riled up powerful unions in the state and took on many of the state's top politicians. He changed his tactics after voters soundly rejected those proposals and cruised to reelection the following year. But his second term primarily was spent finding ways to fill budget gaps and then discovering new ones.

The Republican scored major victories, but it is still too early to tell what impact many of them have. He championed a new method for drawing political boundaries that will be used in this year's redistricting process. He sought to limit air pollution that leads to global warming and require that one-third of the state's energy come from renewable sources by 2020. And lawmakers delayed placing an $11 billion water infrastructure bond initiative before voters until 2012, in light of the state's fiscal difficulties.


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