Schwarzenegger Scandal Hurts Political Clout
Arnold Schwarzenegger, seen here as Governor of California, and wife Maria Shriver. Source: Reed Saxon-Pool/Getty Images
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s admission that he fathered a child out of wedlock may dim the political influence of the former California governor. His return to the movie business is unlikely to suffer.
The 63-year-old Republican, a former bodybuilding champ and star of the “Terminator” movies, has been making public appearances and lining up movie deals since leaving office on Jan. 3 after seven years.
Schwarzenegger’s clout already had suffered from his decision to reduce the sentence of the son of a friend and political ally, former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, said Arnold Steinberg, a Republican strategist in Los Angeles. The new scandal, involving a household staffer who bore his child 10 years ago, adds to the damage, he said.
“This becomes a one-two punch,” Steinberg said in telephone interview.
The day before his term ended, Schwarzenegger cut in half the sentence of Esteban Nunez, who had pleaded guilty to the stabbing death of a college student in San Diego during a 2008 brawl. Schwarzenegger reduced the sentence to seven years from 16. The move spurred a lawsuit by local prosecutors to overturn the decision.
Nunez served as speaker from 2004 to 2008, at a time when Schwarzenegger was reaching across the aisle to cooperate with Democrats on issues such as the budget, water infrastructure and greenhouse gas emissions.
“He still has star power for turning out crowds,” Steinberg said of the former governor. “He is a high-energy, intelligent guy with enormous leadership potential. He’s had bad advice, erratic public policy and his political instincts are not good.”
The 20-year employee whose child Schwarzenegger fathered retired in January, the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday. The affair’s surfacing broke up Schwarzenegger’s 25-year marriage to Maria Shriver, who announced last week that she was leaving him, the newspaper said.
“This is a painful and heartbreaking time,” Shriver said in a statement. “As a mother my concern is for the children. I ask for compassion, respect and privacy as my children and I try to rebuild our lives and heal. I will have no further comment.”
While Schwarzenegger had been financially supporting the child, he concealed the facts from Shriver until recently, the Times said.
‘Feelings of Anger’
“After leaving the governor’s office I told my wife about this event, which occurred over a decade ago,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “I understand and deserve the feelings of anger and disappointment among my friends and family. There are no excuses and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused. I have apologized to Maria, my children and my family. I am truly sorry.”
Schwarzenegger isn’t eligible to run for president because he was born in Austria. He left office with only 22 percent of the voters saying he had done a good job -- one of the lowest public approval ratings for a California governor in history, according to the San Francisco-based Field Poll.
The former Mr. Olympia and star of movies such as 1990’s “Kindergarten Cop” has been attached to two upcoming films. Those plans aren’t likely to be disrupted, said Peter D. Graves, executive producer of “Terminator Salvation,” in which Schwarzenegger had a computer-generated cameo.
“This isn’t a great thing for him, but he handled it as well as anyone could,” Graves said. “I don’t think it affects him as an actor.’
“Cry Macho,” the story of a retired horse trainer who gets caught up in an international kidnapping scheme, is scheduled for a 2012 release, according to the Internet Movie Database, a Hollywood information Web site. It is being produced by Albert Ruddy, an Oscar-winning producer of “The Godfather” and “Million Dollar Baby.”
“We have the perfect star for the role,” Ruddy said in an interview. “We’re making this film.”
Schwarzenegger is also listed as star of “The Last Stand,” a film about a drug cartel leader who escapes from jail. It is directed by Jee-woon Kim, whose last film, the low- budget thriller “I Saw the Devil,” grossed $128,392 at the box office last year.
“He hasn’t even shot the movies and there’s a long time between shooting and when the movies come out,” said Michael Sitrick, a consultant in Los Angeles who specializes in crisis public relations. “It isn’t like he forced himself on someone or did an alleged criminal act.”
Spider-man creator Stan Lee is developing a superhero called “The Governator” that could become a comic book and a television show, Schwarzenegger told Entertainment Weekly on March 30.
Schwarzenegger won a 2003 recall election against then- governor Gray Davis, a Democrat, overcoming allegations published in the Los Angeles Times that he had groped women. Schwarzenegger said the allegations were untrue and Shriver stood by him.
Before leaving office, Schwarzenegger successfully campaigned against Proposition 23, a November ballot measure that would have undone environmental legislation the governor signed in 2006. He spoke this year at environmental conferences in Washington and Los Angeles, and toured the Brazilian rainforest with “Terminator” director James Cameron.
His political action committee, the California Dream Team, lists infrastructure, political reform and the environment as its main issues.
The scandal makes it unlikely that presidential candidates will seek Schwarzenegger’s endorsement, said Steve Maviglio, a former spokesman for Davis when he was governor.
“He’s radioactive,” Maviglio said in a telephone interview. “There’s no cause or candidate that would want him.”
Schwarzenegger’s infidelity has a precedent with former presidents who allegedly fathered children out of wedlock, including Thomas Jefferson, Grover Cleveland and Warren G. Harding.
“Another guy guv admits 2 cheating on his wife,” former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm posted on Twitter. “Maybe we need more women governors. Guys: keep ur pants zipped, for Pet’s sake. #Arnold.”
The issue has come up in the just-starting 2012 presidential race. Former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a Republican who has declared his candidacy, acknowledged in 2007 that he had affair with his former aide, whom he has since married.
“If you’re going to be audacious enough, lie, have the kid play in the house while you’re running for office,” said Hollywood publicist Michael Levine, who represented singer Michael Jackson during his child-molestation trial. “Nobody but Shakespeare could create this story.”