But Schwarzenegger, 73, warns that there are plenty of similarities between California’s history-making populist movements nearly two decades apart, and that elected officials ignored them at their peril.
“It’s pretty much the same atmosphere today as it was then,” Schwarzenegger, the 38th governor of California, said in an interview this week. “There was dissatisfaction, to the highest level. And it’s the same with the momentum. Something that sets it off to a higher level, kind of the straw that breaks the camel’s back … like an explosion.”
In his first-ever interview on this year’s California recall drive, which is expected to be certified soon, the Republican former governor tells POLITICO that the same voter frustration and yearning for effective leadership and post-partisan cooperation are still clearly at play in the nation’s most populous state — and offers Newsom some advice on what may lie ahead.
Here are some excerpts from that conversation, edited for length and clarity:
Do the 2003 California recall that brought you to power and the current recall against Gavin Newsom have anything in common?
It’s pretty much the same atmosphere today as it was then. There was dissatisfaction, to the highest level [in political leadership].
People are working very hard. People are making unbelievable sacrifices every day. It’s very tough to raise kids and to have a family, and to go through this challenge, working to make ends meet. And you feel like, “Wait a minute, but Sacramento doesn’t really do everything for us that they promised they’ll do. We are working hard — but they’re not. They’re failing us every day.” That’s what I see as the similarities from 2003. It’s the same vibe.
And it’s the same with the momentum. Something that sets it off to a higher level, kind of the straw that breaks the camel’s back … like an explosion.
In Newsom’s case, it was the French Laundry thing. With us, it was the power outages in 2003.
Newsom’s team says it’s a “Republican recall” and an effort to overthrow a Democratic governor — is that how you see it?
The Republican party is, like I have said, dying at the box office. This is the crazy thing here, when they say it’s a “power grab” of the Republicans. Let me tell you, the [California] Republicans couldn’t even get anyone elected. It’s ludicrous — the Republican Party doesn’t exist. These are the signatures of the ordinary folks that have signed on.
But isn’t the recall a struggle between the two major political parties?
The political parties will make it right away about them. The Republicans are going to claim the Democrats are terrible, and then the Democrats are going to come in and they say, ”It’s a power grab,” which of course I heard a million times in 2003.
It had nothing to do then — and it has nothing to do today — with either party.
People are dissatisfied. [The recall is] the people’s way of kind of letting off some steam, and then they decide: Do we want to follow through, or not follow through?
You say recalls aren’t about politics. But didn’t Democrats work hard to attack you — as they’re doing now to attack recall backers?
The Democrats brought out Bill Clinton. They brought out my good friend, John Kerry. They said [to voters], “This would be the worst thing you can do,” that “Let’s think of it as a heart surgeon, would you want to have a heart surgery from someone that has never performed heart surgery?”
I just said that, [in Sacramento], the surgeons have been doing surgery for years, and they’ve killed every patient.
Are you concerned about the Democrats’ argument that there is a far right element to this recall — people who have talked about extreme things like microchipping undocumented immigrants, etc.?
Well, no. But I mean it’s exactly the same thing they said [about] me, it was the same dialogue. And so, there is no difference. You have to step back. What is it someone has to say when he wants to keep his job? He is going to paint the other side in a horrible way. That’s what happens in political campaigns, but you can’t take it seriously, because that’s what you do. It’s the same in a UFC fight: Who is the one who can take the best punch, and give the best punch?
In the 2003 recall, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante made the move to get on the ballot to stop you. Was it a real threat to have an elected official from the other party?
That’s all nonsense. No one knew who Bustamante was then, and nobody knows who he is today. It was literally just me — being able to connect with the people and to have big rallies. They got bigger and bigger and bigger. I told [Californians]: Here’s my vision. I know I can do that, and I will work my butt off for you. And I will not look at it in a political way as a Republican. I will just work with both parties, I will serve you, I will be a public servant, not a politician. People bought in, they connected. And I connected with them.
What was the biggest thing that made the difference in the 2003 recall’s success?
The people were looking for an outsider. That doesn’t mean always there’s a degree of success — with Trump, outsider is not always the best bet.
I made it very clear to the people of California that I don’t see the Democrats as the enemy, and I don’t see Republicans as the enemy. I said we must work together to bring the people together — and then we can accomplish certain things. So, this is what I think was a refreshing kind of a thing to hear.
Yes, stardom helps — as much as when people say, “If you have money you can buy the election.” But there’s many elections that we can point to in America that have happened where billionaires didn’t win, like [former eBay CEO and 2010 gubernatorial candidate] Meg Whitman. I think that you have to also show that you are personally interested in serving the people. The reality is, in my case it worked to my advantage, and I never ever looked at the recall as a political issue.
But this time, there’s no “Schwarzenegger-like” figure who can rally voters, right?
Just remember that the people will vote first of all on, “Do they want to have the governor recalled?” — so that has nothing to do with any one individual. That’s nonsense dialogue.
What would happen if George Clooney would run for the governorship? What if Brad Pitt would run? If Oprah Winfrey would run? We don’t know, so there will be an interesting answer to do a poll like that.
California is one of 19 states that allows recalls of governors. Is it too easy here to make this happen?
[In the last 100 years], we had only one recall. It’s very, very difficult. You can start the fire, you can go crazy and you can go and collect the signatures, but can you actually get to the finish line? I think it is very difficult to do.
Does Gavin Newsom take some blame for this recall because of his performance in the pandemic?
I’m very sensitive about one thing — and this is when we go and pretend it’s only happening in California. I was in the mid 60s with my approval rating when I was governor in 2007. Then in 2008, in the recession, my poll numbers plummeted.
So today is the same thing. We have to be careful. The whole nation, and the entire world is fighting over, “Should we take the kids to school or not? What is risky?” The virus is a world phenomenon. And people are just angry — angry that the kids are not in school, angry that we’re supposed to follow science, and there’s a whole crisis going on here and nationwide.
So does Newsom deserved to be recalled?
Newsom is doing something very smart, and that is that he is engaged now. The people have already succeeded with that, even if there’s no recall, because he now has gotten out of Sacramento. He is traveling around the state, is being seen everywhere, is involved and engaged with the vaccine, is involved with education. I see him on the news all the time now. And you know, he’s handling this situation really well. That is already a victory.
Then what’s your advice to him?
I call [the recall] a valve. People have to have a way to let our their anger. And this recall is a way to let out their anger. So now, it’s up to him to say, “Now wait a minute, okay, maybe I was slow at the wheel in the beginning, but I promise you, this is the kind of governor I will be.” And then he is going to go and now jump into more action.
There is progress that people have already experienced. Now it’s, can you really address the homeless? Can you really create equality in education? [On those issues, he must] sit down and they have to go and work on that, without listening to the special interests, and really represent the people in the best possible way.
It’s not easy, because there’s a lot of powers out there, it will pull in one direction or the other — but it has to be done.
So the only advice I have for him is that he’s doing a good job now. That he has improved his connection with the people, and that he should continue on being real — being himself, and to really always just think about the people — and not about the unions, not about the party, not about any of that — just the people. And to solve the problems. Solve the problems.
Will you endorse in this recall?
No, I don’t get involved in that at all. I try to be, in this case, the elder statesman, one that understands the phenomenon of a recall, that understands why people are dissatisfied, that understands what needs to be done and is not being done.
All I can tell you is that I’ve had many people come to me for advice over the period of these last few months. I don’t talk about who, but I can tell you, a lot of people. And I can tell you also — that I will never say what we talked about.
‘It’s thrilling, exciting and terrifying’: NASA prepares for first helicopter flight on Mars
Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars nestled under the belly of the Perseverance rover, which landed on the Red Planet in February. The helicopter, which will only work for 31 days and can fly for 90 seconds max, is intended to demonstrate that flight is possible on another planet, which could open the door for uncrewed aircraft to see parts of the planet rovers can’t access or act as scouts for astronauts on future missions.
Ingenuity will be flying in an atmosphere that’s just one percent as dense as Earth’s atmosphere. That means that while the helicopter will be just 10 feet off the ground, it’s as if it was flying at 100,000 feet on Earth. For comparison, most commercial planes fly between 30,000 and 40,000 feet.
“It turns out, if you take a small dual-rotor counter rotating helicopter that weighs about four pounds and you make those carbon fiber blades fatter and spin them five-times faster than an Earth helicopter, you can get enough lift” to fly on Mars, Hogg said.
Hogg, who has worked at NASA since 1997, spoke about how his team is preparing for the historic flight and how the idea for a flying drone on another planet dates back to the 1990s.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s your role in the Perseverance mission?
I’ve been working on the Mars 2020 project since 2012. Today I’m the deputy surface mission manager for Mars 2020.
We plan what the rover is doing the following Martian sol [a day on Mars.] I’m the deputy running that team, so … we are running the mission. … It takes an army of people to pull that off in a way that it’s safe so we don’t lose our billion dollar asset but also in a productive way to get all the science done.
How is the team prepping for Ingenuity’s first flight?
On Saturday, we successfully completed a whole series of steps to deploy Ingenuity to the Martian surface. We spent 10 days on Mars doing that, which may seem like a long time, but a lot of important things need to happen.
After it’s been packaged up and safely attached to the bottom of the rover, it’s 150 million miles away. It made it all the way to Mars, survived launch, entry, descent and landing. We don’t want to fumble at the 99-yard line.
Over the last week or so … we finished assessing the flight zone with the rover’s cameras, we dropped off the debris shield outside the flight zone, then we drove to one end of the flight zone to begin deployment of Ingenuity to the surface. We went through several steps to do that. We lowered it on an arm with a little motor, powered it to vertical position, and finished deploying the legs. … Then we spent an extra day or two making sure there was enough clearance for the rover to drive away. … We needed to get the rover off and away so sunlight could hit Ingenuity’s solar cells within a day. It was critical to make that happen so Ingenuity could charge up its batteries and have enough energy to survive the Martian night.
Is there a camera on Ingenuity to get aerial shots of Mars?
Yes. There are two. One is a black and white lower resolution navigation camera that captures imagery at a high rate and uses computer vision to figure out where the helicopter is. The second color camera is like what you’d have on your phone for getting some color images as well.
Where did this idea come from?
What kicked off this whole thing is the fact that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab landed the first rover on Mars in the 1990s. … We landed this microwave-sized rover and it was the first time we roved on another planet. … There was discussion in various corners of JPL about what about a flying machine? … In 2013, they had a flying machine research lab. Our then-director at JPL Charles Elachi had gone to a conference and came back to JPL wondering if we could do a flying machine. He toured the drone lab at JPL and said let’s put together a proposal for Mars 2020. The deadline was only 2 months away. Bob Balaram [the chief Ingenuity engineer] and his team burned the midnight oil and got a proposal in.
What makes flight so difficult on Mars?
It’s flying in such a thin atmosphere. But also, if you take a step back, we’re doing something on another planet that has a one way light time of 15 minutes. That means if I bought a remote control car and got it to the Martian surface alive and well, and hit go on the joystick, it would be 15 minutes before it started moving and another 15 minutes before I knew it was moving. … So you need an autonomous capability.
This is the next level of achievement I’m describing, being able to fly something in 1 percent of Earth’s atmosphere on the surface of another planet that’s 150 million miles away. These are mind boggling engineering achievements we’re dealing with here. … It turns out, if you take a small dual-rotor counter rotating helicopter that weighs about four pounds and you make those carbon fiber blades fatter and spin them five times faster than an Earth helicopter, you can get enough lift to lift a very lightweight package.
So with the lag, it will fly and land before you even know it?
The flights are approximately 90 seconds on average. We send instructions for the day to the rover. The rover passes on instructions for the helicopter to a base station … over a radio connection after Ingenuity wakes up and gets in communication with the rover. … So sometime on Mars, … it will carry out those instructions for its first flight.
The results of that flight get sent during the flight to the base station, then relayed to the rover. Then the rover waits for a Mars orbiter to pass overhead and minutes or hours later, it relays everything that happened to the deep space network here on Earth [which takes 15 minutes.] Then we get the story of what happened on Mars and we unpack it all. Hopefully we will be celebrating.
All those steps happen with humans just waiting on Earth to see how it all plays out.
I can’t imagine how stressful that is.
I’m remembering Saturday afternoon. … We determined that the helicopter had dropped and it had turned on for the first time, so we knew it was alive. Then we allowed the rover to drive away. We were waiting for an hour and a half to see how the drive went and if we successfully uncovered helo to beat the 25-hour deadline [after which Ingenuity would not have enough battery charge to survive a night on Mars.] … There are moments where it feels like a week of your life is going by waiting to see if something is happening that you spent seven years engineering. It’s thrilling, exciting and terrifying. This is why we do what we do.
Biden’s Quiet ‘Breakthrough’ In Talking About Race
Since at least the mid-1980s, the pursuit of the archetypal “Reagan Democrat” suburban swing voter has been a lodestar guiding Democratic messaging. The strategy was straightforward: These socially moderate-to-conservative suburban white Americans largely were simpatico with Democrats on economic issues, but voted for the GOP in part because they believed Democrats were interested in pursuing racial justice at the expense of issues they viewed as more relevant to their own lives.
The result of that thinking was a “color-blind” approach to talking about economic policies and programs — emphasizing a “rising tide lifts all boats” message that glossed over or ignored racial disparities. But for reasons both ideological and strategic, that “color-blind” posture is no longer effective for Democrats — and, McGhee says, can actually backfire.
“Since the Obama era, the racial sorting of voters has included white voters moving to the Democratic Party because of their progressive views on race,” she says. “What holds together the progressive coalition is, yes, obviously, a sense that government can — and needs to — be a force for good and address our big crises. But also the coalition … thinks we have to talk about race, and doesn’t want to see politicians without the courage to address these obvious inequalities head-on.”
In this way, while the Biden administration’s massive investments in middle-class economic growth have been likened by some to the liberal heyday of Franklin D. Roosevelt, that comparison misses an important difference. The New Deal era was defined by policies that were “either explicitly, as in the housing subsidies, or implicitly, because of segregation in education and housing under the GI Bill, for whites only,” says McGhee. By contrast, she sees the Biden era as “a massive refilling of the pool of public goods for everyone.”
What explains that change? What shifted in American politics that prodded Democratic leadership to directly address the racial components of economic issues? And what’s the hidden history that led to the disinvestment in public goods just as Black Americans began to be included in what America saw as the “public”? To sort through it all, POLITICO Magazine spoke with McGhee. A condensed transcript of that conversation follows, edited for length and clarity.
Let’s talk about swimming pools. It’s a vivid metaphor you use in your book, and a history I was unfamiliar with. Can you explain the significance of public swimming pools?
Heather McGhee: In the 1930s and ’40s, the country went on a building boom of public amenities — public libraries, parks, schools and swimming pools. But these weren’t normal swimming pools. These were grand, resort-style pools that could, in many instances, hold thousands of swimmers.
In many ways, it was emblematic of a larger ethos at that time: that it was a government’s job to ensure a higher and higher standard of living for its people. You saw that in the New Deal-era social contract, which included massive subsidies for housing, high labor standards, wage floors, the GI Bill — which put a generation of men into homeownership and into college and the professional ranks. And all of that was either explicitly, as in the housing subsidies, or implicitly, because of segregation in education and housing under the GI Bill, for whites only. These massive public investments created the great American middle class on pretty much a whites-only basis.
Public swimming pools were also often segregated. And in the late 1950s and early ’60s, when Black families began to successfully advocate [for integration], saying that their tax dollars had paid for these public pools and they wanted their children to be able to swim in them, too, many cities across the country opted to drain their public swimming pools rather than integrate them.
That meant that white families lost out on a public good they had cherished. It meant that the entire community lost out on a public space and a commons that could foster social cohesion. It meant that white families with enough money started to build their own backyard swimming pools — that’s when we really began to see that phenomenon in the suburbs — and these membership-only, private swim clubs popped up all across the country. Black families often had to go without — and so did the white families who couldn’t afford it when what was once a public good became a private luxury.
Cuomo’s Albany dominance takes backseat to political survival
The governor who once muscled his biggest priorities through the Capitol annually, rarely failing to come out on top, is now taking a decidedly lighter tread in negotiations with Senate Majority Leaders Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, according to half a dozen people familiar with the budget talks. Both Democratic leaders have taken a hard line against Cuomo over the past month, with Stewart-Cousins being among the first to call for his resignation and Heastie authorizing an impeachment investigation that commenced late last month.
Nearly a month after he vowed to not let his then-burgeoning sexual harassment scandal deter him from doing his job, Cuomo is now spending his days trying to reframe the now-tarnished narrative of his tenure as he faces the single greatest threat to his decades-long political career. He appears to be putting political survival ahead of his own policy priorities, playing nice with lawmakers as he zips around the state to tout progress on vaccines and announce steps to open up the state’s economy.
On Monday, Cuomo appeared deferential to legislators as he called the budget “the most complicated, the most ambitious and the hardest budget that we have done,” and applauded both chambers for working through pandemic restrictions.
“They’ve been working very hard, under very difficult circumstances,” Cuomo said. “So it’s been a complicated process on top of a complicated product. … But this budget will set the trajectory for the state for the next 10 years.”
He went on to tout the recent legalization of marijuana in New York and local police reform plans that are nearly in place across the state, neither of which were initiated through the budget. He made no mention of the deals he had cut to sign off on progressive priorities, including the agreement to temporarily raise taxes on those making more than $1 million a year, a move that will give New York City’s top earners the highest combined city and state tax rate in the country.
Cuomo‘s January budget proposal did include a similar tax hike on high earners that was worth about $1.5 billion, but he called it his “worst-case-scenario” budget. His administration backed away from the concept after the most recent federal relief package authorized about $12.5 billion in aid for New York.
The state Senate and Assembly both proposed raising more than $6.5 billion through tax increases even after they saw the federal dollars coming in, in part due to pushes from progressive members and advocates warning that a one-time influx of federal stimulus wouldn’t be enough to fix existing imbalances in the state’s financial planning.
Cuomo on Monday also made no mention of an influx of more than $4 billion in school funding that the final deal is expected to phase-in over three years through a system that progressives have long sought. Cuomo has resisted their demands, calling them political and labeling a years-old lawsuit over the issue “ghosts of the past and distractions from the present.”
Legislative leaders have said publicly that Cuomo’s scandals — both over his sexual harassment allegations and his administration’s attempt to hide the number of Covid-19 deaths tied to nursing homes — has had little effect on the budget process, which is largely driven by staff and their constitutional duty to pass a spending plan on time. But legislative sources and former Cuomo aides say it’s clear Democratic lawmakers are steering the budget negotiations this year, in contrast to the past.
“With that federal revenue and with state revenues shoring up pretty nicely, you have a budget that should not have been so hard to get done on time,“ said a former Cuomo aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to so as not to anger the governor. “So it seems pretty clear to me the lawmakers are saying, ‘we’re going to do it this way.’”
In years past, Cuomo has been able to wield considerable power in the Legislature by reaching out to rank-and-file members and their political power brokers. But that’s harder than ever with huge portions of Democrats in both chambers calling for his resignation last month.
Typically what you’d be doing is in order to get to the lawmakers you’d be working their constituency groups and their advocacy groups and that would influence the lawmakers,” the former official said. “But the progressive groups, every single one of them, wants to see them gone.”
But some say the governor — or his office at least — has been pushing hard in certain areas, such as enhanced spending authority for federal funds and stricter checks on how unemployment might be distributed to undocumented immigrants.
“I know a lot of people speculated as to whether he would be weaker this time around, but I haven’t seen any sign of that,” said Assembly Health Chair Richard Gottfried, the chamber’s longest-serving member.
Still, Cuomo has in past weeks fled to friendlier waters when he shows his face in public, fully engaged in the craft of narrative revision. Earlier Monday, he was in his native Queens to announce public service campaign to encourage vaccinations, part of a downstate tour visiting pop-up vaccination sites in communities of color he had promised months ago to prioritize in the state’s distribution program. Those events, more often than not closed to reporters, have given him the ability to solicit public praise — specifically from his supporters in the Black community who have thanked him for his follow-through.
On Monday, he received compliments from Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), who last month said Cuomo should resign if it was shown he couldn’t effectively lead the state. And Queens Assemblymember Vivian Cook, who worked on Cuomo’s father’s campaigns and has known the governor since he was young, told the borough and state to “thank this son of Queens for making sure that we are taken care of.”
“We are proud and we are proud of him. So, no matter what you say or what you do, we’re going to stick by this man — he’s staying with us,” she said.
Cuomo’s mood during these kinds of public appearances have been almost buoyant, with bits like challenging former Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia to arm wrestle during a jovial event to announce the Yankees and Mets could start their seasons with fans.
And when his chief counsel and budget czar joined a recent question-and-answer session by web cam, he teased them publicly for appearing glum.
“He’s looking very stern faced because he’s coming down to it — he only has a few days left to work on the budget,” Cuomo said of budget director Robert Mujica, who neither smiled nor responded. “You can see the stress on his face.“
“Business as usual” is an ancient ploy that has occasionally worked for embattled politicians patient enough to see a news cycle through.
“I think what you see the governor doing is trying to focus on the things that he knows the public likes and trying to ignore, to the extent possible, all the things that he doesn’t like,” said Steve Greenberg, the spokesperson for Siena College Research Institute.
Though the most recent polling from Siena found dips in his overall favorability and reelection prospects, 60 percent of voters still approved of his handling of the pandemic and a 48 percent plurality say he should continue to do his job despite the allegations.
But as the budget process wraps up in Albany, it’s likely eyes will again turn to the investigations into sexual harassment allegations, Cuomo’s handling of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes and new reports that Cuomo recruited several members of his staff to produce his book about leadership during the pandemic.
The lawmakers and attorneys heading up the Assembly Judiciary’s impeachment probe have said it could take “months, rather than weeks” to compile any findings that would initiate the next steps. There is no timeline for the state Attorney General Tish James’ report, though Cuomo has asked the public to wait for its completion before drawing any conclusions about his behavior.
“I think the goal here is to run out the clock to the extent possible and hope that the Tish James report comes out in the middle of the summer when everyone is vaccinated and there’s all this stimulus money coming in,” said another former Cuomo aide, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
“He has in his back pocket [the] I’m-not-going-to-run-for-a-fourth-term card, and the closer we get to June  primary, the more effective that is,” the official said. “But I would not underestimate his desire and intention for running for a fourth term.”
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