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Schwarzenegger Says 'Hasta La Vista' To California Governorship

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at a press conference on the passing of the state budget in 2009

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at a press conference on the passing of the state budget in 2009

It's a day that comes with a prepared movie soundtrack.

Well, maybe without the gunfire. But as Arnold Schwarzenegger says "Hasta la vista" to the California governorship after seven years in office, chances are "The Governator" will be remembered more for his immortal movie lines than for his political achievements.

That may be because after two terms in office, the Austrian-born Schwarzenegger leaves with a mixed legacy and an approval rating of just 23 percent.

It didn't start that way. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, easily defeated the Democratic incumbent, Gray Davis, in a dramatic recall election in 2003.

During his inauguration, Schwarzenegger pledged to cooperate with state lawmakers. He also evoked the name of John F. Kennedy -- a reminder of his personal ties, through his wife, Maria Shriver, to one of America's most powerful political families.

"I know there are some of you who say that the legislature and I will never agree on the solutions to our problems," Schwarzenegger said. "But I have found in my life that people often respond in remarkable ways to remarkable challenges. In the words of President Kennedy, 'I am an idealist without illusions.'"

Schwarzenegger came into office pledging to focus on the budget, a critical issue in a state with a bigger economy than Russia, Brazil, or Canada. But as he leaves, California faces economic meltdown in the wake of the global financial crisis and U.S. recession, with a budget deficit of $28 billion.

Political Improvisation

Much of Schwarzenegger's tenure was characterized by haphazard leadership and growing disenchantment among both Republicans and Democrats with their governor, who they say failed to push through difficult but much-needed budget reforms even when his public support was high.

Schwarzenegger did enjoy certain successes, like environmental bills regulating greenhouse-gas emissions and setting goals for California to move toward renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

He also undoubtedly won legions of fans this autumn when he signed a bill reducing the penalty for people found possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Even as his popularity waned, he continued to use his charisma and star power to promote issues at an international level -- including speaking at the 2009 UN climate change conference in Copenhagen.

More recently, he traveled in October to the mud-soaked site of Skolkovo, near Moscow, to show support for President Dmitry Medvedev's efforts to raise a Russian Silicon Valley from the ground up. "I know that Russian technology and extraordinary minds of innovation and everything, together with the Californians, I think could really create a great miracle here and a great boom in that industry," Schwarzenegger declared.

Back To Hollywood?

California is no stranger to celebrity governors. Schwarzenegger's replacement, Jerry Brown -- who previously served two terms as governor in the 1970s and early '80s -- was known for dating a number of high-profile women, including singer Linda Ronstadt. Ronald Reagan was a well-known film actor when he took over as governor in 1967, a post he later used to propel himself to the U.S. presidency.

Schwarzenegger himself has expressed an interest in someday running for president. But the U.S. Constitution bars naturalized citizens from holding the nation's top job, and any amendment to change it is considered unlikely at a time of great political friction in the United States.

So what will the 63-year-old Schwarzenegger -- a man of many careers -- do next? In a recent interview with the "Los Angeles Times," he expressed an interest in everything from writing books to pursuing his interests in health and environmental policymaking.

He even suggested that he might consider a return to Hollywood, where some might say he enjoys his brightest legacy with movies like the "Terminator" and "Predator" franchises, "Conan the Barbarian," and "Kindergarten Cop."

Either way -- as the Terminator himself makes clear -- it's unlikely that Schwarzenegger has faced his final challenge.

written by Daisy Sindelar based on agency reports