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Schwarzenegger Warns of Partisan Gridlock

Before a Stanford University audience, the former governor gets reflective and deflects talk of him becoming Obama's energy czar

A month out of office, former Governnor Arnold Schwarzenegger cut a relaxed figure, beaming and cracking jokes as he reflected on his tenure with students at Stanford University yesterday afternoon. Citizen Schwarzenegger provided a stark contrast to the highly scrutinized state leader whose tenure was defined in its last years by political gridlock and budget failures.

Speaking with the perspective of hindsight, Schwarzenegger stressed the importance of avoiding partisan agendas, which plagued his seven years in Sacramento, and “getting stuck in ideology.”

“As you can see right now in Sacramento, they can’t do anything, as you can see in Washington they can’t do anything,” Schwarzenegger said to the packed room of students and faculty before his scheduled talk. “They’re all frozen.”

“And who does it serve?” he continued. “The parties.”

Introduced by Joe Nation, a Stanford professor of public policy and former state assemblyman, Schwarzenegger sat in an oversized leather chair and struck up a casual conversation on state issues with his former chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, and Stanford lecturer David Crane. Schwarzenegger trumpeted his bipartisan accomplishments in Sacramento and willingness to cross party lines for the sake of progress.

“I have no problem with Democrats. I sleep with one every night,” he joked, referring to wife Maria Shriver.

He pointed to Proposition 11, passed in 2008, which eliminates the Legislature’s power to draw boundaries for the state’s 120 legislative districts. Scwarzenegger called redistricting before Prop. 11 “gerrymandering to the highest level” and had visited Stanford two years ago to campaign for its passage.

“There were Democrats and Republicans sitting together drawing up district lines in the state of California and if you just looked at the district lines, it was like a bunch of drunken sailors getting together and drawing them,” he said.

Schwarzenegger also cited California voters’ approval of open primaries in 2010 among his greatest successes in altering the Sacramento political landscape. Kennedy said such changes will not only make elections more competitive, but also force politicians to be more responsive to voters’ needs.

From political reform, talk quickly shifted to another of Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial feats: environmental legislation, notably greenhouse gas limitations. He spoke proudly of AB32, the state’s climate change law, which mandates a statewide 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emission by 2020.

“We actually took on the Bush administration, which was my own party,” he said. California’s law, he noted, set a nationwide precedent for emissions legislation. He said the law will create jobs in the clean energy sector, protect residents’ health and improve national security.

“You’re sending how much money overseas? Trillions of dollars you’re sending overseas, to countries that hate us,” Schwarzenegger said, referring to oil from the Middle East. “And they are countries that are organizing terrorism against us with that money. Not all of the money, but some of that money.”

While he remains a champion of energy legislation and speaks widely on the subject, Schwarzenegger remained coy on the prospect of bringing his expertise to Washington. Schwarzenegger is reportedly on a very short list of replacements for President Obama’s energy czar, Carol Browner, who will be stepping down in the coming weeks.

“I think that the federal government and the Obama administration knows, because I’ve said it many times, that anyway I can be helpful, because I’ve gone through the war here in California,” he said. “I’ve been through all the battles.”

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