No California governor serving his last few days in office has ever been more concerned about his legacy than was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Perhaps this was because unlike Ronald Reagan or Pat Brown or Pete Wilson in their last days, he has few possibilities for future elected office.
Yes, he could conceivably run for the U.S. Senate against Dianne Feinstein next year, but she’s a far more formidable candidate than the state’s other senator, Barbara Boxer, so if Schwarzenegger saw the Senate in his future, he would have gone after Boxer last year.
Right up until his last day, Schwarzenegger’s bloated press operation was sending out long encomiums to his achievements in office, principally on the environmental front, where he first watered down the landmark 2006 AB32 climate change bill and then trumpeted what was left of it as his signal achievement.
But the former governor’s last few days in office did not reinforce any environmental achievements he may have had. Rather, they called new attention to his consistent pattern of favoring the biggest contributors to his campaign accounts.
That pattern began on his first day in office, when he rolled back a previous increase in the vehicle license tax, an action that greatly pleased the car dealers who helped bankroll his 2003 recall election candidacy, but has cost the state more than $4 billion per year since – an amount that by now totals the same as the entire projected state deficit of about $28 billion.
Other actions favored developers, casino Indian tribes, oil and chemical companies and many other big-money contributors. Sure, Schwarzenegger spent some of his own money on his causes, but others plunked down far more and they were well rewarded.
It was just the kind of behavior that led to the recall of ex-Gov. Gray Davis, but Schwarzenegger did it with far more panache, so he never paid a price for it.
But the pure hypocrisy of Schwarzenegger’s actions in his last few days stood out in bas relief because of its timing and volume.
Most roundly condemned has been the commutation of the prison sentence of Esteban Nunez, convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the stabbing death of a San Diego State University student in 2008 and sentenced to 16 years. Nunez, the son of former Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who often seemed like Schwarzenegger’s lapdog as they hobnobbed around the state, bragged to friends and co-criminals that his daddy would get them off. The younger Nunez had already caught a break when he was charged with manslaughter and not murder.
But Schwarzenegger went the generous prosecutors responsible for that charge one better on his final day as governor, reducing the sentence for the son of his sycophant to seven years. Seven years for helping snuff out the life of a fellow college student. They may be angry about this, but the family of the victim and the prosecutors can do nothing about it.
It was an act of cronyism and hypocrisy from a man who blasted political favoritism when he ran for office and constantly tried to portray himself as a supporter of tough law enforcement.
Equally hypocritical and reeking of cronyism were some of his last-minute appointments. Remember, this was a governor who promised to “blow up boxes” and tried to get rid of numerous boards and commissions he thought redundant and wasteful.
He failed to eliminate most, and among his final acts as a “public servant” were a score of appointments of friends and aides to high-paying jobs on those same boards. His longtime chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, was appointed to a new commission that will negotiate health insurance rates. Her “wife,” Vicki Marti, received two plum appointments with salaries totaling $168,000. The interior decorator wife of another ex-aide, Kari Miner, will get $128,109 per year as a member of the Public Employee Relations Board, a board with little useful purpose.
Schwarzenegger also handed out political rewards to lawmakers who did his bidding and then were either termed-out or simply gave up in the face of determined opposition. Former Republican state Sens. Dennis Hollingsworth and Roy Ashburn will join the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board at $128,000 per year, and ex-Republican Assemblyman Anthony Adams will get $111,000 as a member of the state parole board. Previously, the ex-governor placed ex-Democratic state Sen. Carole Migden in a $132,000 post on the Integrated Waste Management Board.
All provided key votes for Schwarzenegger at times when he badly needed them.
Some of the appointments were nothing unusual. Democrats who run the Legislature have often appointed departed colleagues to state sinecures. So has every past governor.
But none of them appointed staffers and their relatives. And none of them inveighed loudly, as Schwarzenegger often did, against that practice and the very boards and commissions to which he later appointed his pals.
It adds up to a legacy of shame and hypocrisy, which comes as no surprise to anyone who ever noted the ex-governor’s long record of false promises and favoritism.