No doubt Hollywood will eventually make a movie out of this bizarre, dramatic escapade, and it might not be too hard to secure Arnold Schwarzenegger to play the lead role. After just 11 weeks of campaigning, the man who served three terms as a cold, metallic “Terminator” has been elected the next governor of California.
“Everything that I have is because of California,” the former “Kindergarten Cop” said in his victory speech on Tuesday night. “I came here with absolutely nothing, and California has given me absolutely everything. And today, California has given me the greatest gift of all. … I will not let you down.”
Arnold, who announced his intention to run for the position on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on August 6 (see“Schwarzenegger Seeks To Terminate California Governor In Election” ), has never held a political office before now. But that doesn’t seem to matter.
A majority of voters chose “The Running Man” for the state’s top spot Tuesday after 54.3 percent of voters elected to remove second term Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, according to CBS News exit polls. The move marked the first time a U.S. governor has been yanked midterm since 1921, when North Dakota removed Gov. Lynn Frazier.
California voters, soured by a sliding economy and an unbalanced state budget, called for a recall election to remove Davis shortly after his narrow victory over Bill Simon in November 2002. In his concession speech Tuesday night, Davis said, “We’ve had a lot of good nights over the last 20 years, but tonight the people did decide it is time for someone else to serve, and I accept their judgment.”
Schwarzenegger took 47.9 percent of the vote to win the election. The next closest candidate was Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, with 32.3 percent of the vote.
The strange field of candidates also included former “Diff’rent Strokes” star Gary Coleman, Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, comedian D.L. Hughley, adult film star Mary Carey, watermelon-smashing comedian Gallagher and T.S.O.L. frontman Jack Grisham ( see “T.S.O.L. Frontman Running For Governor Of California” ).
Approximately 9.25 million California residents cast their votes, according to California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley. That adds up to around 60 percent of the state’s 15.4 million registered voters, and marks the highest non-presidential election turnout for the state since 1982.
The majority of men who showed up at the ballot box voted for Arnold. But Schwarzenegger also took the majority of the female vote — 47 percent — despite recent groping accusations.
On October 2, the Los Angeles Times printed a front-page story about six women who claimed to have been sexually harassed by Arnold over the last three decades, mostly on movie sets and in studio offices. One of the women claimed he squeezed her breast and tried to remove her bathing suit in an elevator, and another said he sat her on his lap and asked if she had ever been the recipient of a specific sex act, the Times reported. One of the allegations stemmed from an incident that occurred as recently as 2000. A week after the story broke, an additional 10 women surfaced with similar claims, according to CBS News.
In response to the reports, at a San Diego rally Schwarzenegger said, “I have behaved badly sometimes. … I was on rowdy movie sets and I have done things that were not right which I thought then was playful, but now I recognize that I have offended people. And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them I am deeply sorry.”
The alleged groping wasn’t the only bad behavior that got Arnold in trouble during his campaign. In recent days, the former Mr. Universe was fingered for telling an interviewer in 1975 that he admired Adolf Hitler. In interviews for the 1977 film “Pumping Iron,” Schwarzenegger said, “I admire him for being such a good public speaker and for his way of getting to the people and so on. But I didn’t admire him for what he did with it.”
The actor responded, “I don’t remember any of those comments, because I always despised everything that Hitler stood for,” and added that the former Nazi leader was “a disgusting villain.”
With such scuttlebutt apparently behind him, Schwarzenegger has some tough times ahead. He will be sworn in no later than November 16 to serve the remaining three years of Davis’ term, and after that he’ll have to contend with the financial crisis that faces the state.
California currently has a projected deficit of $8 billion. Davis had narrowed the deficit from $38 billion through expensive borrowing that will have to be repaid with interest. During his campaign, Schwarzenegger claimed he wouldn’t raise taxes or cut educational spending. Where he’ll get the money is unclear, but he has to turn in a budget plan by January 10.
In his victory speech, Schwarzenegger said, “For two months, I’ve been speaking out about the need of bringing back fiscal responsibility to this state, bringing back a positive business atmosphere, bringing back businesses, bringing back jobs, bringing back our education. It’s very important that we need to bring back trust in the government itself.”
And though his speech offered no concrete plan to rebuild the state, he stressed that nonpartisanship is essential. “The first choice that we must make is the one that will determine our success,” he said. “Shall we rebuild our state together or shall we fight amongst ourselves, create even deeper divisions and fail the people of California? Well let me tell you something, the answer is clear. For the people to win, ‘politics as usual’ must lose.”