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Arnold's Paper Anniversary

A year ago, the Governator was sworn in. Since then, California has returned to the state of wacky weirdness that the rest of America has come to expect from it.

11:00 PM, Nov 16, 2004 • By BILL WHALEN
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A YEAR AGO TODAY, Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in as California's 38th governor. The rest, as they say, is show biz history.

Since last November, the Governator has slashed the state's car tax, reformed its workers' compensation system, and balanced California's budget without raising taxes (thanks to spending cuts, long-term borrowing, and creative math). Schwarzenegger has emerged as a deciding factor in the fortunes of ballot initiatives, but not as successful in getting Republican candidates elected. All the while, he's kept the media and rival Democrats off balance by nimbly steering both left (support of embryonic stem-cell research) and right (pumping up the crowd at the Republican National Convention).

Schwarzenegger swept into office promising an economic revival and a "Golden Dream by the Sea." Indeed, under his watch, California's economy has improved: the state's credit rating is up; unemployment is at a three-year low, and state revenues are ahead of their forecast, which means a small budget deficit to deal with next year. Yet, with only 120,000 jobs added in the past 12 months, it's not exactly a juggernaut.

Still, one change is obvious. California, under Schwarzenegger's watch, has returned to its old self: a little quirky, a tad kooky, and terribly entertaining. Seemingly disinteresting and gray under the previous governor, Gray Davis, California once again is chock full of both the sort of human comedy and drama that leaves many Americans thinking it's a short trip from the Left Coast to left touch with reality.

Consider the recent turn of events in the Golden State . . .

Arnold Takes Tokyo. Schwarzenegger just wrapped up his first high-profile overseas trade mission, a trip to Japan to promote tourism and investment. The Governator set up camp at Tokyo's Park Hyatt--the same hotel featured in Bill Murray's Lost in Translation (a film about a star who finds himself in Japan to film a whiskey commercial--because he needs the work). Schwarzenegger, for years a fixture on Japanese television as a pitchman, walked away with a deal only a celebrity-politician could cut: he'll make more Japanese commercials, with the proceeds to reopen California's Tokyo trade office (click here to see some of Arnold's high-voltage, pre-gubernatorial pitches for noodles and energy drinks). Schwarzenegger's justification for crossing the line back into celebrity endorsements: "It's quick money. You work for a day and the trade office opens. You have enough money for several years. That's really the way to go."

Maybe Mexico's Next. In Japan, locals affectionately call Schwarzenegger "Schwa-chan" (loosely translated: "my little Schwarzenegger"). According to the Los Angeles Times, Mexico's leaders might offer a sobriquet less affectionate--and less suitable for a family publication. The problem: resentment over Schwarzenegger's opposition to granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. The Times reports that Mexican President Vincente Fox was to visit California for three days at month's end, including a stop in Sacramento to discuss the driver's license issue with Schwarzenegger, only to cancel the trip upon hearing that Schwarzenegger doesn't intend to budge. When the two do meet, watch for Schwarzenegger to remind Fox that he has a long history with Mexico, having filmed four movies south of the border. It'll help matters if Fox, who a year ago referred to the governor-elect as "Schwarzenberger," gets his name right.

Speaking of Disputes, There's the Mess in San Diego. The town that calls itself "America's Finest City" has a fine mess on its hands thanks to a local government scandal and a mayoral election that split three ways between the incumbent mayor, a county supervisor, and a city councilwoman. The councilwoman in question is Donna Frye, a self-described "surfer chick" (she and her husband own a local board shop)--a clean-water activist who ran a write-in campaign calling for open government. Frye jumped into the lead as more write-ballots were counted; the courts are deciding if the count should continue. Still others contend there should be a separate runoff election, as no candidate will emerge with a majority. If elected, Frye becomes, like, a totally gnarly Jesse Ventura--a novelty act, with serious questions as to whether she could govern a metropolis. And she would inherent a scandal that's earned San Diego a new nickname: "Enron By the Sea." Federal investigators want to know what missteps and misdeeds led to the city ending up with a $2 billion gap in its workers' pension fund and retiree medical benefits.