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Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political legacy in California already was tenuous.
He left the governor’s office after seven years without making good on his central campaign promise to fix the state’s budgeting system, then commuted the manslaughter sentence for the son of a political ally in one of his final official acts, drawing the condemnation of prosecutors and the family of a slain college student.
Now he’s revealed to be the father of an out-of-wedlock child, a secret he kept during two gubernatorial terms.
No matter his accomplishments in office, Schwarzenegger may be best remembered as yet another philandering politician who got caught.
The former governor said in a statement early Tuesday that he had fathered the child of a longtime household staff member more than a decade ago, and that the woman continued to work in the family’s Brentwood home until January.
Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, announced earlier this month that they were separating and that Shriver had moved out, although they did not give a reason at the time beyond a reference to difficult transitions.
After leaving office in January, the former Republican governor had for a time been angling for a role as some kind of international political spokesman, perhaps on environmental issues. In April, he appeared at a Washington, D.C., forum on immigration hosted by President Barack Obama, but his grander plans for politics did not appear to be panning out, so Schwarzenegger lately has been trying to relaunch his career as a Hollywood action star.
“It’s over. There’s no political future,” said Patrick Dorinson, a Republican who worked on Schwarzenegger’s 2003 campaign and in his administration early on. “I’m just disgusted. It’s the only dang bipartisan thing these guys do — cheat on their wives. John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger — tell me the difference.”
The comparison to Edwards is natural. The former North Carolina senator frequently invoked his wife and children as he sought the 2008 Democratic nomination for president. He later acknowledged fathering a child with a campaign videographer at the same time his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, was battling breast cancer. She died last year.
Yet Schwarzenegger’s legacy and reputation already were under fire after he cut Esteban Nunez’s prison sentence for manslaughter to seven years from 16. Nunez, the son of former Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, had pleaded guilty in 2008 in the stabbing death of a San Diego college student, 22-year-old Luis Santos. Prosecutors say Esteban Nunez also stabbed two other people after he and a group of friends went looking for revenge after getting kicked out of a fraternity party.
San Diego County prosecutors last week asked a state court to overturn Schwarzenegger’s last-minute decision because he failed to seek input from the victim’s family before he made the commutation. State law requires such notification.
Schwarzenegger’s story now resembles that of so many other politicians beset by hubris and poor judgment. The indiscretion, which Schwarzenegger referred to as an “event” that occurred more than a decade ago, will be what sticks in the minds of many people, adding to the former “Terminator” star’s image as a Hollywood playboy.
“Long after Californians have forgotten the details of his fiscal policies, they’ll remember that he had a child out of wedlock. And more importantly, they’ll remember the cover-up,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. “It doesn’t necessarily contradict his policies, but it certainly taints his reputation.”
Others said the news has a greater impact on Schwarzenegger’s family and his friends than it does on California voters.
“I think at the end of the day, it didn’t happen during his governorship, it happened before his governorship,” said former Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte, who is now a Republican adviser. “Citizens in California already have a fixed impression of Gov. Schwarzenegger, good or bad, and I would be surprised if this changes that.”
It was a surprise that Schwarzenegger had kept an out-of-wedlock child a secret for more than 10 years while the mother continued to work in the Schwarzenegger-Shriver home, but the revelation itself was not a shocker.
Schwarzenegger, a former Mr. Universe who had often bragged about his sexual conquests before he met Shriver, had come under fire just days before the 2003 recall election after the Los Angeles Times reported allegations from 16 women that Schwarzenegger had groped and verbally harassed them during encounters dating to the early 1970s and as recently as 2000. Schwarzenegger apologized for his bad behavior but never fully addressed the claims.
“Yes, it is true that I was on rowdy movie sets and I have done things that were not right which I thought then was playful, but now I recognize that I have offended people,” he said then. “And those people that I have offended, I want to say to them, `I am deeply sorry about that and I apologize, because this is not what I’m trying to do.’ When I’m governor, I want to prove to the women that I will be a champion for the women.”
Ironically, Shriver was key to helping her husband beat back the allegations and win the 2003 recall election, lending him credibility when she appeared onstage to say that the accusers didn’t know her husband.
“I’m personally very torn about this issue,” said Eric Bauman, a vice chairman of the California Democratic Party. “I have great sympathy for his wife and children to learn about this, but as a concerned Californian, as one who strongly opposed his election during the recall campaign, I remember how his team treated the women who came forward that made complaints about untoward behavior and they were not very nice about it. They were very aggressive in batting down those women and their stories, and lo and behold, now we have this.”
Schwarzenegger did appoint women to high-profile posts during his seven years in office, and aides said he would drop everything when Shriver or their four children called. He ended his overnight stays in a hotel suite across from the Capitol to fly home every night, saying he wanted to be closer to his children.
But he also cultivated a masculine atmosphere in his Capitol office, setting up a smoking tent in the outdoor courtyard where he negotiated deals over cigars. His closest staffers donned his signature cowboy boots and oversized watches.
During his 2006 re-election campaign, a six-minute audio recording surfaced of remarks Schwarzenegger made about a female lawmaker in a closed-door speechwriting session.
“I mean Cuban, Puerto Rican, they are all very hot,” the governor said. “They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it.”
The lawmaker, Republican Bonnie Garcia, had a good relationship with the governor and defended him.
Another former female lawmaker was less forgiving of Schwarzenegger’s style.
Former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, a Democrat, said in a 2009 interview in LA Magazine that she didn’t always feel like she fit in. As a legislative leader, Bass was among the small circle of lawmakers who would negotiate budgets with the governor.
“The governor is much more comfortable negotiating with men and likes to do the guy thing — the challenging and baiting, how guys will kind of come after each other. That doesn’t work well with me, nor does it apply to me,” said Bass, now a member of Congress.
Schwarzenegger has announced plans to star as a horse trainer in a planned drama called “Cry Macho” and has talked about resurrecting his signature “Terminator” character. He and comic-book legend Stan Lee recently announced he would voice the lead character in an animated TV series called “The Governator,” in which he would play himself.
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press