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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 December 2004, 14:19 GMT
A good year for Schwarzenegger
By Dan Griffiths
BBC correspondent, California

Schwarzenegger on a new stamp
Mr Schwarzenegger is doing well in opinion polls
A little more than a year ago, California's voters decided in a special election to kick their existing governor out of office and vote in Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Critics questioned how a man better known as a muscle-bound body-building champion and movie action hero could run one of America's largest and wealthiest states.

Governor Schwarzenegger appears to be doing better than they expected.

I didn't know Arnold was such a good actor until he became governor
Unnamed Californian
A short tram ride in Sacramento, California's capital, is plenty of time to get the feel for what people here think of their movie star governor.

"Going good," says one man.

"He's doing what we've always prayed for, making things happen. Compare him to Bush, and I'd vote for Arnold for president."

A woman nearby agrees. "I think he's doing a pretty good job."

But she adds: "I don't think he had any understanding of how difficult it is to govern this state when he got here. There's more to be done."

But not everyone gives the new governor high marks.

"I didn't know Arnold was such a good actor until he became governor," says one man.

"As far as dealing with the major problems the state is facing, he's just postponing the difficult decisions."

Non-traditional politician

Arnold Schwarzenegger is riding high in the polls with figures that any politician would envy.

Much of that is down to his celebrity, superstar status. But it is also because he simply does not sound like a normal politician.

"I am here to pump you up. I am here to pump you up to re-elect President George W Bush," he told a roaring crowd during the president's re-election campaign.

He has used his popularity to score a few early political successes.

Top of the list was a multi-billion dollar bond issue, which helped ease California's financial crisis.

He ignored the gridlocked legislature, took advantage of California law and took the issue directly to the voters, in what is called a ballot initiative - a method he says he is prepared to use again.

Power to the people

Senate minority leader Dick Ackerman is one of the top Republicans in Sacramento.

"Unfortunately, the Democrats control the legislature here, and it's very hard to get anything positive through, from our standpoint," Senator Ackerman says.

"So his threat, if you will, if he doesn't get it through the legislature then he'll go around them and take it to the people has people upset up here."

But Mr Schwarzenegger has his agenda and very strong drawing power, he says.

If the governor believes in something strongly enough and wants to get it passed, Senator Ackerman believes it is appropriate to ask the voters directly.

The main challenges still lie ahead. The state is massively in debt and needs a new budget quickly.

Arnold Schwarzenegger
He squandered an opportunity to use his incredible popularity
Jackie Speier, Dem Senator
And the outdated political system is also due for a hefty overhaul. They are big issues, and that means big political wrangling in Sacramento.

And already some Democrats are unhappy - like Senator Jackie Speier.

"He squandered an opportunity to use his incredible popularity. Lots of opportunities that were available to be acted upon, he blinked," she says.

"Or in an effort to try to look like he was getting something done because he's an 'ack-tion, ack-tion, ack-tion' governor, he moved too quickly."

She says the governor has got involved in a name-calling game, calling Democrats losers or "girlie men".

"That doesn't move us in a bi-partisan direction," she says.

'Amend for Arnold'

Then there is the California factor.

With one of the biggest economies in the world and a population roughly the size of Canada's, it is more like a country than a state.

Many people say it is simply ungovernable.

Local journalist Dan Walters says Mr Schwarzenegger may have finally met his match.

"Schwarzenegger is finding out much to his chagrin that this is a very difficult state to govern," he says. "It is not just a simple question of being popular or persuading legislators or giving them cigars and posing pictures.

"Grinding out policy and getting it enacted is a very difficult thing to do in a state as complex as California."

But that will not stop his supporters. They have begun a campaign to change the US Constitution to allow people born outside the US, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, to run for president.

That will not happen anytime soon, if ever, but the adverts are already running in California.

But for many here in Sacramento, they would rather their governor focus on California's troubles than the White House.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has certainly shaken things up here.

But the big question now is whether he can translate his popularity into some serious political achievements.


SEE ALSO:
California bans smoking in jails
28 Sep 04 |  Americas
Schwarzenegger 'sex ban' quip
19 Oct 04 |  Americas
Schwarzenegger in stem cell call
19 Oct 04 |  Americas
Schwarzenegger hails 'leader' Bush
01 Sep 04 |  Americas
Schwarzenegger settles doll case
03 Aug 04 |  Entertainment
Schwarzenegger to boost Hollywood
16 Apr 04 |  Entertainment


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