The actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is best known for fighting bad guys in the movies. Now, the body builder turned Hollywood star is lending his muscle to a California effort to fund after-school programs for children. His supporters hope the actor is rehearsing for a role in politics.
Arnold Schwarzenegger says he came to America from his native Austria with a determination to become rich and famous. Now a multi-millionaire with more than 30 movies to his credit, he has achieved that dream, and is known throughout the world just by his first name.
He has long been active in youth causes, serving as chairman of the President's Council of Physical Fitness and Sports, and as weight-training coach in the Special Olympics for mentally disabled youngsters.
He has now turned his attention to after-school programs for children. The actor spent $1 million of his own money to collect the required number of signatures to get a funding proposal on the California ballot this November.
He says the measure, Proposition 49, would provide $550 million a year for youth programs, between the critical hours of 3 in the afternoon and 6 in the evening. "The law enforcement community has made it very clear that between 3 and 6 o'clock, this is the danger zone for children," said Arnold Schwarzenegger. "Those are the peak hours for juvenile crime, for teenage pregnancy, for gang-related violence. It's also between 3 and 6 o'clock, the time when most likely the kids get involved in drugs, in alcohol and smoking."
The actor says the costs of incarcerating juvenile offenders are high, but the cost per-student for after-school programs is lower. "Only $5 a day," he said. "So I say let's not arrest the children. Let's arrest the problem. That's the bottom line."
Proposition 49 is a citizen-sponsored ballot initiative, which is permitted in California and a number of other states that allow voters to conceive prospective laws and approve or reject them at the ballot box. The actor and activist says he used the process because lawmakers in the state capital of Sacramento have been unresponsive. "See, the kids don't vote," he said. "So that's why in Sacramento, when it comes to children's issues, they're asleep. And this is why we have here the constitutional power in California that we can go and create an initiative so we can circumvent the politicians and go directly to the voters and let the voters decide on election day, in this case on November 5, if they want to choose and say yes on Proposition 49 or not."
Voter polls suggest Proposition 49 will pass.
The measure has many supporters, including the 300,000 member California Teachers Association. But the smaller California Federation of Teachers opposes the measure. Cindy O'Connor, president of the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles, says the after-school measure uses funds that could be spent on education or children's health care. "We're fully supportive of after-school programs," said Cindy O'Connor. "What we don't like is when there are programs that have mandatory funding in the budget. We think it's very bad public policy. It reduces the flexibility of the decision-makers when there are times of budget crisis, and we don't think it's right that a program would be able to pull off a half a billion dollars out of the budget every year, regardless of the financial state of the budget."
Mr. Schwarzenegger is an active Republican and his supporters would like to see him run for public office, perhaps for the U.S. Senate in 2004 or for the California governorship two years later. A questioner asked the star if he couldn't better promote his proposals while serving in public office. "First of all, thank you very much for making this offer," he said. "But I have to be very honest with you. I just say to myself, I don't want to run for governor because this is very complicated, just alone filling those forms. I mean, it says on this form 'profession'. So let's assume I put down 'actor.' I may get sued for perjury,"
The actor told a Los Angeles audience he will leave the decision about running for higher office to the Almighty, whom he jokingly identified as his wife, Maria Shriver.
Supporters say the actor's wife could help him appeal to Democrats if he did run for office, assuming she supports him. She is a member of the most prominent family of Democrats in the country, the Kennedys, the niece of Senator Edward Kennedy and the late President John Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy.
The actor, however, refused to be specific about his future, and closed with his trademark line from the movie Terminator:
"I'll be back."