October 24, 2005

In rare turn, Schwarzenegger takes public questions

By Adam Tanner

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Arnold Schwarzenegger, who calls
himself the "people's governor" of California, took questions
on Monday from members of the public not chosen by his staff --
a relatively rare event in a highly scripted ballot measure

During a live television appearance, the former actor and
bodybuilder smoothly fielded polite questions on four ballot
measures in a special election he has called for November 8.

When one Democrat asked the Republican if his proposed
initiative on redistricting was a partisan grab for power,
Schwarzenegger quickly turned to humor.

"I think you should get an acting job. I like the way you
do my accent, very good," the Austrian-born governor said,
referring to the man's pronunciation of the word 'California.'
"Many people have tried it, but you do it perfectly, really."

He then said no power grab was under way and added he had
upset both Republicans and Democrats with his plan to change
the way California draws up its legislative districts.

At another point, he mocked the introduction of questions
from the audience, which included giving marital status. "It
sounds a little like a dating service here," he said.

Although a masterful campaigner, Schwarzenegger has
typically limited his appearances to conservative radio talk
shows and handpicked friendly audiences, some of which are
easily prompted to chant: "Yes on 74, 75, 76 and 77."

The numbers refer to four initiatives that could extend the
period before teachers receive tenure, limit unions' political
contributions, give the governor new powers over spending and
change the way election districts are chosen.

Schwarzenegger's campaign has generated strong labor union
and Democratic opposition as well as protests outside many
venues at which he appears. Amid relentless television
advertising against his favored initiatives, Schwarzenegger's
popularity has fallen sharply this year.

"That's not the Arnold that I am, that you see in those
television commercials," he said at the event aired on KTVU
Channel 2 and co-sponsored by the Contra Costa Times, "Some
times when I listen to those TV ads, I'm mad at myself."

During the event, Schwarzenegger repeated many lines and
themes from his stump speeches, casting himself as a political
outsider fighting for reform.

California Democratic state Senate President Don Perata
shared the stage with a union official for 45 minutes at the
event, followed by Schwarzenegger's solo appearance for the
same amount of time.