Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Schwarzenegger

The Third Act: Professor Schwarzenegger

• August 27, 2012 • 4:00 AM

Can the former governor get state and local governments to do what the federal government can’t? And can he do it through a post-partisan academic think tank?

The administration of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger often resembled an ambitious global think tank that was affiliated with a gym. In the long days between his early morning and evening workouts, the governor tackled every thorny public policy issue by convening with experts from across the political spectrum, and the world. Then he and his diverse team of advisers—from progressive environmentalists to conservative business lobbyists—would synthesize centrist solutions that were unveiled at press conferences heavy on body-building metaphors.

This approach encapsulates what was so promising, and frustrating, about Schwarzenegger’s seven years as California governor. He had a knack for finding the pragmatic middle ground on difficult subjects. But at times, the breadth of his work and ambition made it hard for the administration to focus. That tendency, in combination with political polarization and the difficulties of governing California’s broken system, sometimes made it hard for him to turn his thinking into action.

[class name="dont_print_this"]

California Issue

Other stories in Pacific Standard‘s special look at California’s effort to live up to its sobriquet of the Golden State include:
The Governor’s Last Stand

The Freethinking Homeless Billionaire and the Flat-Broke State

The Corrections (posting August 28)
[/class]

So the governor’s establishment of a new think tank at the University of Southern California, the USC Schwarzenegger Institute (along with a professorship), is both fitting, and intriguing. Yes, comedians have had a field day with the idea of an Arnold think tank (“Maria Shriver said Arnold came up with the idea of the think tank while thinking things over as he slept on the couch,” quipped Argus Hamilton), and yes, there is considerable cynicism about whether USC is trading on Schwarzenegger’s fame and fundraising ability (he’s promised to raise $20 million for the think tank) and whether Schwarzenegger is seeking some academic gloss to rehabilitate his image. But a close look suggests his plan is serious and super-ambitious.

Maybe too ambitious, in a familiar way. The institute is devoted to developing “post-partisan solutions”—a big task in an increasingly polarized world—across five policy areas, each big enough for multiple think tanks: education, energy and environment, fiscal and economic policy, health and human wellness, and political reform.

“We’re not going to do all those things at once,” says Bonnie Reiss, one of the institute’s two directors (the other is law and public policy professor Nancy Staudt). “We want to have the flexibility, should a new policy challenge arise, to take action in a new direction.”

Reiss says the institute will achieve such breadth through a host of collaborations—with students who become institute fellows, with policy practitioners from school superintendents to governors, with other think tanks and non-profits. Already, Schwarzenegger is devising collaborations with other parts of the USC public policy school (where the institute will be based) and the film school. It’s not hard to imagine, given the former governor’s ambitions, the institute reaching even further afield—even into the hard sciences. The first of the think tank’s stated principles is: “science and evidence must play an important an important role when finding solutions to policy and social issues.”

Reiss’ presence is one sign of the institute’s seriousness. She’s a former California education secretary and current member of the University of California Board of Regents who has worked with Schwarzenegger for two decades. Among many other successes, she helped turn his LA Inner City Games program into a national after-school program with operations in a dozen cities.

Another good sign is how the USC institute aims to build on other Schwarzenegger policy projects. The USC institute is collaborating with R20, the nonprofit coalition Schwarzenegger founded early last year with the encouragement of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki- Moon, who wanted to rebuild momentum for climate change work after the failure of the Copenhagen conference in late 2009. The coalition, made up of large states and provinces from British Columbia to India’s Gujarat state, develops, finances, implements, evaluates and replicates low-carbon and climate-resilient projects with economic benefits. R20 is a natural extension of Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial work on the issue. Unable to convince the federal government to take more action on climate change, he reached agreements on climate measures with other U.S. states and sub-national governments around the globe.

A key player with both the USC center and R20 is Kandeh K. Yumkella, director-general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Yumkella serves on the USC Schwarzenegger Institute’s star-studded advisory board, along with former U.S. housing secretary Henry Cisneros, former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Mexican president Vicente Fox, and Austria’s current chancellor Werner Faymann.

Terry Tamminen, a former California environmental secretary who works with Schwarzenegger on R20, calls the former governor’s aim to harness local and sub-national governments to tackle global problems when national governments are paralyzed, “the emerging Schwarzenegger Doctrine.” Duly, Schwarzenegger has been named a professor in state and global policy.

Schwarzenegger expects to collaborate with other political leaders interested in the marriage of subnational governance and global issues. Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley is chairing the Global Cities Initiative, a joint project of Brookings and JP Morgan Chase to encourage collaboration between municipal leaders worldwide on economic issues. And Schwarzenegger’s R20 has close ties to C40, an organization of large cities chaired by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Schwarzenegger friend, that focuses on climate change.

Schwarzenegger formally launches the USC think tank with a symposium on campus in late September; he’ll keynote USC’s global conference in Seoul next May.

His biggest challenges: Can he sustain a “post-partisan” think tank when policy-oriented donors are mostly partisan? At age 65, can he quickly build something that lives after him? Schwarzenegger is determined to create a think tank that not only comes up with ideas—but also works to implement them. Since implementation was the most difficult challenge for his administration, the big question may be not what new lessons the former governor can teach the world, but what lessons Professor Schwarzenegger learned from his time in office.

Joe Mathews
Joe Mathews is a fellow at Arizona State University's Center for Social Cohesion, California editor of Zócalo Public Square, and a contributor to the Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, and Fox and Hounds Daily.

More From Joe Mathews

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 31 • 4:00 AM

The Power of Third Person Plural on Support for Public Policies

Researchers find citizens react differently to policy proposals when they’re framed as impacting “people,” as opposed to “you.”


October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.



October 29 • 6:00 AM

Tell Us What You Really Think

In politics, are we always just looking out for No. 1?


October 29 • 4:00 AM

Racial Resentment Drives Tea Party Membership

New research finds a strong link between tea party membership and anti-black feelings.


October 28 • 4:00 PM

The New Health App on Apple’s iOS 8 Is Literally Dangerous

Design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple should know that.


October 28 • 2:00 PM

And You Thought Your Credit Card Debt Was Bad

In Niagara County, New York, leaders took on 40-year debt to pay for short-term stuff, a case study in the perverse incentives tobacco bonds create.



October 28 • 10:00 AM

How Valuable Is It to Cure a Disease?

It depends on the disease—for some, breast cancer and AIDS for example, non-curative therapy that can extend life a little or a lot is considered invaluable. For hepatitis C, it seems that society and the insurance industry have decided that curative therapy simply costs too much.


Follow us


We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.