Schwarzenegger is trying hard to create legacy before it’s over

Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneg-ger dished out make-believe mayhem during his action-movie days, but he must be a closet masochist.

Why else would he say, as he often does, that he would love to remain governor of California? He is already one of the most unpopular governors in state history, and he is leaving behind an economy that has erased more than a million jobs and a state budget deficit that is worse than the one he inherited seven years ago.

A rational man would jet to his ski lodge in Sun Valley and return to Sacramento just in time to hand the mess to successor Jerry Brown.

Instead, Schwarzenegger is spending his last weeks in office in legacy mode, attempting to convince Californians that his roller-coaster governorship has been a success, even though three-fourths of them consider it to be a failure.

“I’m going to run to the finish line,” Schwarzenegger said Monday during a news conference on the steps of the state Capitol that was, if anything, a celebration of failure.

The odd ceremony ostensibly was held to praise local governments around the state for enacting bans on “single-use” plastic bags. About 20 billion of them are handed out each year in California, and environmentalists say most wind up in trash cans, waterways or as what some call “urban tumbleweeds.”

Actually, however, Schwarzenegger and other attendees lamented that the Legislature refused to pass a statewide ban on plastic bags that even the grocery industry prefers to a patchwork of local ordinances.

It was the latest in a series of events Schwarzenegger has been staging throughout the state to remind everyone that he has been an ardent champion of political reform and environmental causes. He hopes, it would appear, that his record on global warming, redistricting and other issues will overshadow his abject failure to redeem his 2003 promise to end “crazy deficit spending” or his later pledge to “blow up the boxes” of state government.

However, history’s verdict on Schwarzenegger’s governorship, whether positive or negative, cannot be rendered now. He launched many programs and policies whose impact, if any, will not be felt for years.

It is possible that he will eventually be seen as a “visionary governor,” as Assemblywoman Julia Brownley called him during Monday’s ceremony, if his initiatives on environmental matters, political reform, water and other issues work out.

And it is possible that he will be viewed as someone who blew a historic opportunity to repair California’s tortured finances and doomed the state to penury.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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