On recall's 10-year anniversary, Schwarzenegger's legacy up for debate

California Legislators Vote On State's Embattled Budget

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In this file photo, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger holds a press conference after the legislature successfully passed a solution to the state's budget problem July 24, 2009 in Sacramento, Calif.

Arnold Schwarzenegger built his 2003 Recall campaign on a platform to cut spending and shrink the bloated state bureaucracy.  Nearly three years after he left office, he’s probably best remembered for California’s years of brutal budget deficits and his landmark global warming law.  But USC political analyst and former Republican consultant Dan Schnur believes Schwarzenegger’s legacy lies in the changes he brought to the state’s political process.

“He didn’t blow up boxes.  There weren’t explosions inside or around the state capitol.  But the less glamorous work of passing reforms like Redistricting and ‘Top-Two’ Primary have the potential to have just as dramatic – if not a more dramatic – impact on state government,” Schnur says. 

Sacramento State’s Steve Boilard, on the other hand, argues that Schwarzenegger’s failure to achieve many of his policy goals showed voters that California’s problems couldn’t be fixed by one person – no matter how big his personality.  It was the system that needed to change – and that, he says, is what led to the political reforms.

“In my mind it wasn’t so much that Arnold Schwarzenegger created all that by his own will; it’s rather he brought about a situation where people kind of had to go there, because they realized the silver bullet was not in just picking the right politician,” Boilard says.

Both analysts hope the political reforms will reduce partisanship at the Capitol and make California easier to govern – but they say it’s too soon to know.

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