Assessing Schwarzenegger: Watch what he does, not what he says

I don’t buy the idea that public officials need to be role models in all
aspects of life.

It’s tough enough to find people who combine the necessary leadership,
policy and political skills, commitment to service and willingness to run.
Expecting them also to be saints transforms a tough job into a nearly
impossible one.

A good example is our previous president–a deeply flawed human being who,
nonetheless, did a pretty good job of leading the nation to peace and

So, when assessing our current governor, I don’t expect personal perfection.

I do, however, believe a governor should try to lead by example and be
somewhat consistent in his or her words and deeds.

Unfortunately, as Governor Schwarzenegger seeks re-election, I see a pattern
of falling short of those standards.

The same governor who, in 2003, declared “I don’t need to take any money
from anybody” raised $2.5 million at a single $100,000-per-plate dinner this

The same governor who spent most of the recall campaign attacking Gray Davis
for allegedly excessive fund raising spent more than $70 million on last
year’s ill-conceived special election, and plans to raise and spend more
than that this year.

The same governor, who for years has denounced “autopilot” government
spending, now is proposing an automatic increase for his own budget.

And the same governor who last year attacked unions and sought to prohibit
traditional pensions for all future public employees has benefited from the
representation of his own union, the Screen Actors Guild, including a
generous pension plan.

The governor has an inspiring personal story as an immigrant who became a
champion bodybuilder, film star and entrepreneur. He donates his government
salary to charity and has poured millions of dollars from his personal
fortune into his political campaigns.

There were, of course, pitfalls along the way, such as his admitted past use
of then-legal steroids, the harassment claims that dogged him during the
recall campaign and the glorification of violence in his films. But, I’m
willing to declare a statute of limitations on past behavior and evaluate
the governor strictly on his actions since entering public office.

Unfortunately, his pattern of “do as I say, not as I do” has been one of the
few things that has been consistent throughout his ideologically zigzagging
tenure as the state’s top elected official.

Soon after taking office, Schwarzenegger convinced voters to let him borrow
$15 billion to cover the state’s deficit-spending while simultaneously
prohibiting any future governor from doing the same thing.

Maybe that was necessary as a one-time fix, but this year he tried to do it
again by proposing $68 billion in new infrastructure bonds while
simultaneously proposing a debt ceiling to prevent future governors from any
similarly ambitious borrowing. By some methods of accounting, his proposal
violated its own debt limit.

And, while politicians don’t need to be role models in all areas, it would
be nice if the governor didn’t lead by bad example.

Riding a motorcycle without a license, promoting smoking with his cigar tent
and maintaining a personal fleet of eight gas-guzzling Hummers are not
capital offenses, but they undermine the state’s efforts to promote traffic
safety, health and fitness, and energy conservation.

The governor is blessed with an upbeat personality that enables him to
declare both victories and defeats “fantastic” with seemingly equal
sincerity. But saying it doesn’t make it so. His policy priorities may have
varied from year to year, but the underlying pattern has not changed: “Do as
I say, not as I do.”

To that, I respond: Actions speak louder than words. Watch what he does, not
what he says.

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: