'Hasta la vista' for California Governor Schwarzenegger

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Arnold Schwarzenegger slapping the hands of school children
Image caption,
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is stepping down after seven years in office

Hollywood action star turned California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is preparing to leave office in January, following one of the more challenging periods in the state's history. The BBC's Peter Bowes looks back at the so-called governator's transition from muscle-bound Austrian actor to US politician.

The era of "the Governator" is drawing to a close.

After seven years running America's most populous state, Arnold Schwarzenegger is stepping down.

He will be replaced on Monday by Jerry Brown, the Democrat who beat the billionaire Republican businesswoman Meg Whitman in the November election.

Austrian-born Schwarzenegger, a former Mr Universe, world-class bodybuilder and Hollywood action star, stormed into office as the 38th governor of California in a special recall election in 2003.

It was to be his highest-profile and most challenging role - a far cry from the weight-lifter's early days in the Golden State.

"We made the first home video work-out cassette, called Shape Up With Arnold," says Michael Linder, a TV and radio producer who first met Mr Schwarzenegger in the early 1980s.

"You got to see elements of what made Arnold Schwarzenegger the man," he adds.

"He told me that when he was a boy growing up in Austria he was so ashamed of the muscular development of his calves that he cut off all of the trouser legs in his closet, from the knee down, so that he would have to walk around and be humiliated by his puny calves.

"It was that kind of dedication that really took him from being an emigre bodybuilder with promise, to major motion picture star and then the governor of California."

No 'ordinary governor'

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Mr Schwarzenegger won the approval of California voters in 2003

Mr Schwarzenegger replaced Governor Gray Davis, who was hugely unpopular and a career politician.

The former actor, a Republican, was full of enthusiasm, promises and California dreams.

From the outset, it was clear that he would be no ordinary governor.

"Schwarzenegger surrounded himself with red carpet glam," says Mr Linder, who now runs KVB.FM - an internet radio station based at Venice Beach, where Mr Schwarzenegger first pumped iron in the US.

"He smoked cigars, he was surrounded by burly, beefy bodyguards. He was accompanied by a satellite truck that broadcast everything he did on the web, live in real time," adds Mr Linder.

The superstar governor won early approval from voters when, on his first day in office in California's state capital, Sacramento, he repealed the increase of the car tax, which had been due to take effect.

"Now, they [California residents] will have more money in their pockets to pay for needed goods and services," said the new governor.

It was a promising start with an electorate yearning for change and a better standard of living.

Image caption,
Mr Schwarzenegger is not the first actor to serve as governor of California

"We did not giggle the way the rest of the world did at the Governator assuming office," says Dr Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at the School of Policy, Planning and Development at the University of Southern California.

"This state was more than willing to give Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance. Remember, he's not the first actor-governor we have had.

"The first one, in modern history, Ronald Reagan, did a very good job as governor, was respected and of course went on to become president of the United States."

'Inexperienced' politician

Mr Schwarzenegger pledged to reform California's political system and fix its broken economy. But he was thwarted as the state's perilous financial position went from bad to worse.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger had no idea what it was like to govern," says Dr Jeffe.

"Sacramento isn't Hollywood, the power is not with the charismatic action hero alone, if at all. In Sacramento, any governor has to deal with the legislature that feels that it is the governor's equal."

Mr Schwarzenegger frequently locked horns with his Democratic rivals in the state legislature.

He famously expressed his frustration in a colourful speech to the Republican National Convention in 2004.

"To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say, 'Don't be economic girlie men!'" the governor said.

He received rapturous applause.

At the time, Mr Schwarzenegger was the Republicans' new poster boy.

There was even talk of a move to change the law so that one day, as a naturalised American, he could run for president.

But these days there is no such talk, as Mr Schwarzenegger's political star has faded.

"In the end, voters look at what the product is, and Californians have seen very little that has changed their lives, that's moved them out of this recession," says Dr Jeffe.

"We are the centre of the foreclosure crisis. We have a long way to go before Californians feel that they are out of the woods economically, and we've gone deeper and deeper into those woods during the tenure of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"It's very hard to argue that Arnold Schwarzenegger is the cause of the state's recession but the worst happened on his watch."

Fighting global warming

Mr Schwarzenegger will be remembered more favourably, by his supporters, for his environmental initiatives.

Image caption,
Mr Schwarzenegger helped introduce strict laws aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions

He helped to introduce some of America's toughest laws to try to combat global warming.

He inspired the idea of a hydrogen highway - a road system with hydrogen-equipped filling stations to allow hydrogen-powered cars to move around the state with ease.

The concept, however, is still to become a reality.

When he leaves office, Mr Schwarzenegger has said he hopes to write books, specifically the autobiography that he says publishers have been urging him to write for two decades.

He has also pledged to continue his work on public policy, although he has not been specific about working with any organisation.

One theory is that he could try to become a global ambassador as an environmentalist.

A return to film-making seems unlikely, at least in a major role.

The one-time Terminator has said he doubts whether he would have the patience to hang around a set, during the often laborious process of shooting a movie.

Whatever his role, it is clear that Mr Schwarzenegger will be back.

Hasta la vista, Governator.

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