Myers: In general I would say no. But he is much more open than he used to be. He came into office with a very closed, hands-off approach to the press covering state politics. Very limited access to him, very limited question and answer periods, and very much a sense that they didn’t need us—that Schwarzenegger came into office as an international celebrity who could talk directly to the people. After 2005, he learned a lesson about politics from organized labor and others when his series of proposals fell apart at a statewide ballot. The administration became more accommodating and more open.
How does the press corps feel about him?
Miranda: I think the press corps generally likes him. He is very personable, and we appreciate the rare, off-the-record parties he’d throw for reporters and their families. We like how he sometimes injects his experiences in Hollywood and with his family into his speeches, appearances. But from a political perspective, I think most of us feel he was naïve in thinking he could come in and whip Sacramento into shape.
Walters: He is a bit more likable, probably, than his most immediate predecessors, and generally regarded as meaning well, even if the results fall well short of what he promised or would have liked, fundamentally because as an outsider and an amateur he completely misunderstood Capitol dynamics and believed that his celebrity would have more impact than it did.
Have you noticed a shrinkage in the Sacramento press corps?
Myers: There was this incredible peak of reporters who decided they were going to camp out in Sacramento at the beginning of his term. Then it fell off pretty dramatically in a couple of years. I think part of that is that covering the statehouse is hard work. It’s not as simple as covering the trials and tribulations of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It gets a lot more complicated, and it can be arcane, and it can be tough to tell in broadcast. There are probably some similarities in the way Schwarzenegger convinced the public that the fixes to California only required simple commonsense approaches, and the way outside news organizations approached Sacramento thinking it was going to be simple to cover.
Miranda: In 2003, his press office actually had a person that dealt solely with entertainment media. You certainly didn’t see Entertainment Tonight or Inside Edition calling when Gray Davis or Pete Wilson was in charge. Unfortunately, Schwarzenegger, the outsider, evolved into just another politician, an insider, and editors gradually lost interest. On top of that, the recession forced media companies to look at staffing and rethink the expense of a Capitol bureau. I know my position was considered at least once for elimination, but in the end, KABC-TV decided we are actually an example of how it should be done with stations within the same parent company pitching in to keep an important bureau open and sharing expenses.
What have been the governor’s biggest achievements?
Miranda: He’ll always tout AB 32 (Assembly Bill 32), the landmark global warming law he signed in 2006 that requires California businesses, residents, and governments to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020. And this year, he made some strides in reforming the state’s pensions, which he thought was too generous and bankrupting our state.
Walters: He would say the anti-greenhouse gas emission law (AB 32), if it survives in November’s ballot measure vote, and perhaps reforming legislative redistricting (which also m
ust survive November ballot measure) and primary election process. But, as noted, two of the three are problematic and the third’s impact, if any, is unknown.
And his biggest blunders?
Miranda: Hands down it was the 2005 special election. Schwarzenegger had success in 2004 with two initiatives. He thought he could carry a lot of that political capital the following year. When lawmakers wouldn’t go along in 2005 with the various reforms he wanted, he declared a special election and went to the ballot box with four initiatives. One of those initiatives dealt with pension reform. Labor unions successfully portrayed that as taking benefits away from the widows and children of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty. The nurses union also got involved because Schwarzenegger months earlier said things they didn’t like either. All the public employees unions pretty much ganged up on the governor. His popularity started a downward spiral. He managed to get re-elected in 2006 for two reasons: the Democrats put up an unwinnable candidate, and the state enjoyed better than expected revenues that year.