Schwarzenegger Interview Explains California’s Decline

Schwarzenegger Interview Explains California’s Decline

Austrian American actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks about clean energy during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 4, 2023. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

John Seiler

John Seiler


Updated: 1/9/2024


Arnold Schwarzenegger’s term years as California’s governor, 2003–11, remain one of the most consequential periods for California since 1991. That was the year Republican Gov. George Deukmejian left office and was replaced by moderate Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who promptly increased taxes and went to war with the conservatives in his party over those tax increases, badly wounding the party.
As I wrote in The Epoch Times in August in “The Media Is Helping Schwarzenegger Rewrite His Governorship” as he celebrated 20 years since his election in 2003, he avoided needed reforms, increased taxes, and, like Mr. Wilson, went to war with his fellow Republicans.
In a new, extensive interview in Cigar Aficionado, Mr. Schwarzenegger talked with worshipful editor Marvin R. Shanken as they smoke 30-year-old Punch Churchills from communist Cuba, which are illegal in the United States. The former governor lamented not being able to run for president because he was born in Austria. And he talked a bit about national and foreign policy. But I’ll just cover his California comments.
What’s really interesting to Californians are his comments on his governorship. He began with President George H.W. Bush’s appointing him to be the chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness in 1990.
“I then realized that we need more after-school programs, and I created an organization,“ Mr. Schwarzenegger said. ”And actually what I realized was this is addictive—to help other people. Which is not something that was in my vision at all. It really feels great when you come home at night and you’ve helped so many people. So I thought it was great, and one thing led to the next.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Shanken didn’t follow up with any questions about where this led. Promoting after-school programs with private money is one thing. But in 2002, Mr. Schwarzenegger sponsored Proposition 49, which permanently spent at least $400 million per year from the state general fund on after-school programs. There was no new tax source. But a clever section delayed implementation until the state’s budget deficit that year turned into a future surplus. That allowed Mr. Schwarzenegger to claim that it wouldn’t increase the deficit or taxes.
But it did permanently increase general fund spending. So when the deficits hit again when he was governor in 2008, the program inevitably became part of the budget crisis, contributing to the ensuing budget cuts and record 2009 tax increase of $13 billion.
Prop. 49 was a practice run for governor, as Mr. Schwarzenegger crisscrossed the state promoting the initiative, which garnered 57 percent of the vote.
It was one of the worst cases of what’s called “ballot-box budgeting,” in which powerful special interests, in this case an ambitious governor wannabe, tie up budget spending for their own priorities. This prevents the Legislature from doing its job of weighing the state’s many needs and deciding priorities based on compromise.
Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks in his keynote about digital sustainability during the Digital X event in Cologne, Germany, on Sept. 7, 2021. (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks in his keynote about digital sustainability during the Digital X event in Cologne, Germany, on Sept. 7, 2021. (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Schwarzenegger the Moderate?

Mr. Schwarzenegger said people since the 1970s had told him he should run for governor. As he has many times, he said that after immigrating here he became a Republican when he preferred Richard Nixon’s platform in 1968 to that of the Democratic nominee and loser, Hubert Humphrey.
“So people mentioned it a lot of times, but when the recall happened, I said, ‘This is perfect, because I’m not right wing, I’m not left wing, I’m in the middle,’“ he said. ”That doesn’t play well in California with the primaries, because you have to be really to the right as a Republican. I said: ‘This is perfect: There’s a recall election, there will be no primaries, there will be no problem, I can go directly to the people and I can go and win. All I have to do is tell them my plan and be convincing.’ And that’s exactly what I did. I said it’s between me and the voters.”
That’s a distortion. For one thing, Mr. Wilson, elected in 1990 and 1994, was a moderate Republican. Indeed, one of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s mistakes was hiring a lot of Mr. Wilson’s associates, who had promoted the governor’s disastrous “moderate” tax increases with Democrats in 1991. Moderates also won the GOP nomination with billionaire Meg Whitman in 2010 and in 2014 with economist and banker Neel Kashkari, now a member of the Federal Reserve Board.
During this period, the only conservative the Republicans nominated for governor was Bill Simon in 2002.
Mr. Schwarzenegger headlined a Reason Foundation banquet in Los Angeles. My colleague and editor at the time at the Orange County Register, K.E. Grubbs Jr., also attended and recalled in 2005: “I first had an inkling of Schwarzenegger’s political inclinations from a mutual friend (in Arnold’s case, a workout buddy), Dana Rohrabacher, now an Orange County congressman who was among the first to importune Arnold to enter the political arena. Then, in the early 1990s, the world-famous actor headlined a Reason Foundation dinner. His speech was pure Milton Friedman, whose PBS series, Free to Choose, he had also famously introduced.”
Mr. Friedman obviously wasn’t a “moderate” but one of America’s foremost free-market economists. About that same time in the 1990s, Mr. Friedman visited us at the Register. I remember that he said he was impressed by how much Mr. Schwarzenegger knew about free-market economics.
I also distinctly remember many conservative Republicans voting for Mr. Schwarzenegger precisely because he gave the impression he would govern as a conservative. I told them I was skeptical and that state Sen. Tom McClintock (now in the U.S. House of Representatives) was better, but they replied, “I like McClintock, but he can’t win.”
Well, once in office, Mr. Schwarzenegger applied Mr. Friedman’s free-market principles for two years, then spent five years increasing government, increasing taxes, and leaving the state worse off than in 2003, as I detailed in my aforementioned Epoch Times article.
His touted “moderate” schtick also allowed him to avoid helping real Republicans, such as Mr. McClintock, who came close to winning for lieutenant governor in 2006, garnering 45 percent of the vote to 49 percent for the winner, Democrat John Garamendi. If Mr. Schwarzenegger had teamed up with Mr. McClintock and run on a unified party ticket, Mr. McClintock could have won, setting up his own position as successor in 2010. But Mr. Schwarzenegger’s 2006 campaign precluded that. That continued how, in this interview, he never mentions the Republican Party in anything but a negative light.
Mr. Schwarzenegger’s attacks on his own party left it a wreck on the side of the political road, turning California into the one-party state it is today.
Actor and former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger takes a selfie photo with the Terminator animatronics robot during a photo call for the film "Terminator Genisys" in Paris on June 19, 2015. (Francois Guillot/AFP via Getty Images)

Actor and former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger takes a selfie photo with the Terminator animatronics robot during a photo call for the film "Terminator Genisys" in Paris on June 19, 2015. (Francois Guillot/AFP via Getty Images)

Governor of ‘the People’

Mr. Shanken asked what was Mr. Schwarzenegger’s high moment after the election.
“I walked by the television set, and I heard our new governor will be Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said. “When I heard that on the news, I literally had tears coming down my eyes. It was the most powerful thing that I had ever felt or heard. I am going to become the governor of a state that has 40 million people, it’s the No. 1 state in the United States, it’s the fifth-largest economy in the world. I am going to be the governor.”
Ironically, his misgovernance kept the state population rising to 40 million from 35 million in 2003. The closest it got was 39.5 million in 2019, before dropping back to 39 million today.
“And that’s why I tell people you can call me whatever you want, but don’t call me a self-made man,” he said. “There were 5.8 million people who voted for me to be governor. Each one of those people made me governor.”
That’s beside the point. Governing is taking power with a political coalition. The only coalitions available were Republicans and Democrats. Because he shoved Republicans aside, that meant inevitably siding with the Democrats. He often talked about “the people,” but it always was about Mr. Schwarzenegger.

Siding With Democrats

Mr. Shanken again flattered him with the possibility of becoming president and asked, “What are some of your ideas to fix our country?” Mr. Schwarzenegger continued with his fantasy, almost the script for a sci-fi movie: “We are all part of the team. Yes, you have your beliefs—quite contrary to mine—but you’re all part of the team. And we only can win if we all play together. So let’s figure this out.
“No different than what I did in California. I sat down and said, ‘Let’s not fight over what we disagree on; let’s go and find out things we are for.’ The Democrats would talk about environmental issues. I said: ‘You know something? I’m with you. But it’s important to do it the right way—to do it pro-business and not anti-business.’ When we said we want to reduce greenhouse gases and pollution 25 percent, we didn’t go and say to Caterpillar, ‘You cannot build that engine anymore.’ So we had to protect them, and we said, ‘You have 10 years to make a new engine.’ And we did it. And then when we had the bill signing [for Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006], there were the environmentalists sitting next to the car manufacturers.”
Of course the manufacturers showed up because they have to work in the system the politicians create. And actually, even as Mr. Schwarzenegger was attacking industry in California, Caterpillar was shifting much of its manufacturing to nine cities in communist China, where, as I’ve detailed in The Epoch Times, the Chinese Communist Party keeps building coal plants to power industrial growth.
Businesses continue to flee because of the policies Mr. Schwarzenegger imposed. The latest Hoover Institution study, from September 2022, reads: “We discuss several economic factors that have led to these departures by raising business costs, reducing productivity, and reducing profitability, including tax policies, regulatory policies, labor costs, litigation costs, energy and utility costs, and concerns about a declining quality of life within the state. Unless policy reforms reverse this course, California will continue to lose businesses, both large established businesses, as well as young, rapidly growing businesses, some of which will become the transformational giants of tomorrow.”

He Got Rolled Like a Cuban Cigar

Finally, Mr. Shanken brought up the cigar-smoking tent Mr. Schwarzenegger set up outside the state Capitol building to avoid anti-smoking laws he had signed. Democrats then passed a bill specifically banning smoking in his tent.
“I vetoed it with a nice veto message on it to let them know that this is unacceptable,” he gloated. “No one is there that doesn’t want to smoke. In fact, Democrats and other legislators came down and asked me, begged me, ‘Can I come down and smoke?’ That’s how I got most of my deals done.
“We found something in common, which is smoking, and we smoked our stogies, took our jackets off, took our ties off, and we were sitting there and saying, ‘What are you working on?’ So we started working together. So this is what we did, and we got a lot of the things done because of the smoking tent.”
That was so naive. Of course the Old Bulls in the Democratic Party, such as Senate President pro tempore John Burton, were going to humor him—as they rolled him like a Cuban cigar.
John Seiler

John Seiler


John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. Mr. Seiler has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at and his email is

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