Arnold Schwarzenegger moves back into spotlight

The Sacramento BeeOctober 1, 2012 

SPORTS OLY-OLYMPICS 6 LA

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger carries the Olympic flame through Stanley Park in Vancouver, Canada, Friday, February 12, 2010. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

ROBERT GAUTHIER — MCT

Nearly two years after he left office, sullied by his commutation of a prison sentence and by an extramarital affair, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is selling.

In Los Angeles a week ago to inaugurate the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, Schwarzenegger surrounded himself with academics and politicians, suggesting his continued interest in public affairs.

He did a "60 Minutes" interview Sunday, before the release today of his heavily promoted autobiography, "Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story."

The book - including a largely sympathetic account of Schwarzenegger's years as governor and a chapter addressing his affair with a member of his household staff - had been planned for years. It comes as Schwarzenegger tries to rehabilitate his sunken image.

"The question is, what's his motive?" said Barbara O'Connor, a political analyst and friend of Schwarzenegger's estranged wife, Maria Shriver. "If your motive is to clear the decks and move forward on items like this, that's best done in private with your family. If your motive is publicity and narcissism, then you write a book like this."

The contents of the book began to dribble out last week.

Schwarzenegger, 65, says he had sex with his housekeeper in 1996, when Shriver and their children were on vacation and he was home finishing the movie "Batman & Robin."

The affair, which resulted in a child, was hidden by Schwarzenegger for more than a decade, until Shriver confronted him in a meeting with a marriage counselor the morning after he left office.

"The minute we sat down, the therapist turned to me and said, 'Maria wanted to come here today to ask about a child - whether you've fathered a child with your housekeeper Mildred,' " Schwarzenegger says in the book.

"In the initial instant, when time seemed to stand still, I said to myself, 'Well, Arnold, you wanted to tell her. Surprise! This is it. Here's your moment. Maybe it's the only way you'd ever have the nerve.'

"I told the therapist, 'It's true.' "

Schwarzenegger acknowledges another "hot affair" years earlier with actress Brigitte Nielsen, when he and she were filming the 1985 movie "Red Sonja."

Schwarzenegger says the affair, which occurred while he was in a relationship with Shriver, was a "fling" that only "underlined what I already knew: I wanted Maria to be my wife."

He says he is still in love with Shriver and is optimistic about a reconciliation.

Shriver, of the prominent Kennedy clan, moved out of the family's Brentwood home and filed for divorce last year.

A Shriver spokesman declined to comment.

The revelation of the affair briefly set back Schwarzenegger's return to acting, but he appeared recently in "The Expendables 2" and has two upcoming movies, "The Tomb" and "The Last Stand."

At the conclusion of his "60 minutes" interview Sunday, Schwarzenegger was asked if he was "just moving forward again now? Just plow ahead?"

"If you would have asked me 10 years ago, five years ago, two years ago, what is the most important thing in my life, I would tell you over and over, 'It's my marriage, it's my family,' " Schwarzenegger said. "So the thing that really meant the most to me kinda fell apart because of my doing. That is something that I will always look back and say, 'How could you have done that?' "

In the promotion of his book and of his institute, Schwarzenegger once again is selling. It is a trade he practiced while peddling ice cream near his childhood home in Austria and marketing supplements as a bodybuilder.

"I'd be selling, selling, selling," he says in the book. "People would be buying, and I was always a huge hit."

Later, when voters rejected a series of ballot measures he promoted in 2009, Schwarzenegger described his shortcoming as a promotional one: "My salesmanship failed me."

Schwarzenegger adviser Adam Mendelsohn said the point of the book and surrounding publicity is "reflecting on a life that has been an iconic one." Of the former governor's decision to address his infidelity, Mendelsohn said Schwarzenegger "didn't think it was fair to write a book and ignore his failures, and just write about his successes."

Nowhere in the book does Schwarzenegger address perhaps his most heavily criticized act as governor, his decision, as he left office, to reduce the manslaughter sentence of political friend Fabian Núñez's son.

A Sacramento Superior Court judge last month called the action "repugnant" and an abuse of his discretion, but not illegal.

As a politician, Schwarzenegger says, he was at times underestimated.

He describes a trip to the White House in early 2003 in which political adviser Karl Rove told him there would never be a recall election and that then-Gov. Gray Davis wouldn't be unseated if there was.

Schwarzenegger says Rove introduced him to Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser, as "someone here who is interested in running for governor ... and I wanted you to meet her because this is our candidate for 2006."

"How could Rove have been so wrong?" Schwarzenegger asks. "He was a political genius, and he dismissed me! And he dismissed the recall!"

Rice, who later because U.S. secretary of state, has no recollection of the conversation Schwarzenegger described, her office said. She has repeatedly said she is not interested in elected office.

Later in 2003, Schwarzenegger says, Shriver began to "tremble and cry" when he told her in a Jacuzzi one evening he wanted to run for governor.

He says Shriver only changed her mind after her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, told her to "snap out of it," and that, "We women in our family always support the men when they want to do something!"

Schwarzenegger says his first impression of Davis, whom he unseated in 2003, was that of a "skinny, reserved guy, not much of a showman," albeit one who "got off to a strong start when he took office in 1999."

By the time of the recall, however, Schwarzenegger says, "I began to despise everything about Gray Davis."

"When I saw his picture in the newspaper, I didn't see the picture, I saw a monster," Schwarzenegger says. "I had a plan. I visualized myself taking him down."

He says he and Davis later became friends, that he "realized it was hard for any governor to make the changes that were needed."

By the time he left office, Schwarzenegger's public approval rating was on the floor, hitting 23 percent by the end of his second term.

He says in the book that this was a reflection of "widespread unhappiness and misery about the economy," and that "at least it wasn't as low as the Legislature's approval rating of 17 percent."

He says his administration, despite lingering state budget problems, "made a hell of a lot of progress."

Last week, at the University of Southern California, where his public policy institute is housed, Schwarzenegger said he accomplished as governor about half of what he wanted to do, hoping through the institute to accomplish the rest.

His assertion is that dialogue can overcome fierce partisanship in addressing political reform, global warming, education and other matters.

Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, a Democrat who participated in a panel at the institute last week, said he is skeptical of anyone's ability to overcome partisanship but that, "I'm happy to have anybody try."

He suggested Schwarzenegger, at least, could draw more attention to the issue than most politicians.

"Let's be candid here: He has enormous celebrity," Foster said. "I hope that's useful. ... I wish him well."

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