• U.S.

Arnie’s High-Risk Election

3 minute read
Terry Mccarthy

The budget has ballooned to $200 million, the main actor has lost his star appeal, and a majority of the public has decided in advance they are not interested. No, this isn’t a Kevin Costner movie. It’s the run-up to next week’s special election in California. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is working hard to push through several weighty government-reform initiatives, but the Nov. 8 event could well turn out to be one of his biggest flops: 54% of California voters see no need for the special election, particularly since the initiatives could have been voted on in the primary next June. Schwarzenegger’s popularity ratings, meanwhile, are turning him into a liability on the campaign trail. The man who came into office promising to aggressively challenge special interests in the state capital says he regrets his earlier talk of “kicking [the] butts” of nurses and mocking “girlie men” legislators. After pulling his segments from all TV ads supporting the initiatives, Schwarzenegger last week released a humbler pitch in which he admitted to mistakes on the job. “The Governor has said he realizes there are some comments better left for Saturday Night Live,” says one of his spokesmen, Todd Harris.

While Schwarzenegger may have frittered away much of his political capital, the four reform initiatives he has been pushing are far from frivolous. They propose that public-school teachers become eligible for tenure after five years, up from two; that public-service unions need to get permission from individual members before using their dues for political purposes; that the state implement a mechanism to cap spending; and that voting districts be redrawn by retired judges instead of legislators. A poll released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that none of the initiatives are supported by a majority of likely voters. The same poll put the Governor’s approval rating at 33%, down from 61% a year ago.

All of that leaves room for an unpleasant sequel. If the initiatives crash, Schwarzenegger will have an even tougher road to re-election next year–and could face competition from another Hollywood hero. Democratic stalwart Warren Beatty has begun making speeches against the Governor, and while Beatty tells TIME he doesn’t particularly want to run for office, he won’t rule it out. “I don’t think any good citizen should take that off the table,” he said, adding, “I am flattered by the question.” Wonder if Arnie can still remember that feeling?

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com