The Trojans, Professor Arnold and His Legacy

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is remaking himself again, as a USC professor

It's a long way from movie action hero to college professor, but that's the latest career twist former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is taking.

Schwarzenegger is writing a sizeable check as part of a multi-million dollar commitment to establish what will be called the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy. It's a grand-sounding title.

Schwarzenegger told the Los Angeles Times the new think tank is meant to focus on lessons learned from his years as governor and bipartisan solutions to issues like political reform.

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Schwarzenegger, who received an honorary doctorate from USC three years ago, wants to ensure that his record as governor gets the attention he believes it deserves. It's also part of a well-established pattern of reinventing himself.

When Schwarzenegger shook the political and entertainment worlds by getting himself elected governor in the 2003 recall, it was clear that he had initial difficulty separating that job from his Hollywood background.

As governor, he staged stunts like turning a giant spigot prop at the state fairgrounds, Cal Expo, to symbolize the flow of red ink he planned to stop. He drove a Humvee labeled "Reform One" to publicize his ballot reforms. He famously labeled lawmakers as "girlie men" for opposing his budget proposals.

And all the while he insisted to me at one point, in an interview, that he was not a politician. That soon changed.

When I accompanied Schwarzenegger on his first overseas trip as governor, to Israel in 2004, one of the clear objectives was to redefine his image.

As his handlers put it, he wanted to be seen as a statesman, not a former movie star.

Israelis I talked to on that trip mostly knew of Schwarzenegger as a bodybuilder and a guy who blew things up in the movies. So the trip carefully profiled his meeting with then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and his role in a groundbreaking for a new Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.

Schwarzenegger's image underwent a further retooling after his disastrous election defeat in 2005 at the hands of the labor unions. Voters rejected his efforts to weaken teacher tenure protections and limit labor's fundraising powers. Staffers were canned.

Democratic advisors like Susan Kennedy and Daniel Zingale took on key advisory roles. Schwarzenegger's bravado language also took a back seat. As he told me in December 2010, as he prepared to leave office, he realized that calling lawmakers names wasn't working.

"I recognized after looking back, why did you say that?" Schwarzenegger said of himself. "That was stupid. So then you learn and you become more inclusive. ... I tried something. It didn't work. I started going in a different direction."

In his final term, that direction meant talking about an elusive concept he called "post-partisanship," the idea that lawmakers could rise above partisanship.

Schwarzenegger pushed spending measures to address global warming and build schools and levees.

Of course, no amount of spin can undo the scandal that developed after Schwarzenegger left office, when word surfaced that he had fathered a child years ago with a housekeeper, prompting wife Maria to walk out.

But the USC institute is his effort to portray his short tenure in politics, at least, in a positive light. As Schwarzenegger told me in that exit interview, "I've made enough money to last the rest of my life. I never have to go and get a job or look for something."

He may not have to worry about money, but like all politicians, he worries about his legacy. As for that transition from action hero to campus professor -- come to think of it, it's been done before.

Maybe Schwarzenegger needs to model himself after that famous anthropology professor: Indiana Jones.

Author Kevin Riggs, an Emmy-winning former TV reporter in Sacramento, is Senior Vice President at Randle Communications.

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