Columnist Marcos Breton proposed an interesting invitation. "I dare you," he wrote on Wednesday, "to name a legitimate Schwarzenegger achievement."
He didn't have to triple-dog-dare; this one's easy.
Elections in California are being fundamentally changed through redistricting and the open primary system. The first, championed by Gov. Schwarzenegger five times before it passed, took the power of drawing political districts out of the hands of politicians and gave it to the people for the first time in state history. Even the most cynical pundits have said the second reform, the "top two" open primary system, is already altering campaign dynamics and giving independent, moderate voters a "potentially decisive role" in choosing candidates. These reforms will have a lasting, positive effect on California.
A similar story will be told about Schwarzenegger's consistent push to invest in the state's roads, bridges, levees and schools. He put together a strategic plan for the state, and in 2006 placed four initiatives on the ballot representing a $42 billion investment in the state's critical infrastructure the largest investment in more than 50 years. That's long-term thinking that is both preparing California for population increases over the long term, and putting people to work today.
Third, no conversation about Schwarzenegger's administration is complete without noting his dogged focus on environmental protection.
We won't fully understand the impact of the Global Warming Solutions Act until it has been fully implemented, but what we already know is that Schwarzenegger drove an international conversation about environmentalism that also makes economic sense. His similar achievements the first-ever low-carbon fuel standard, his Million Solar Roofs initiative, and pushing for increased use of renewable energy sources will continue to protect natural resources, drive innovation and lure investment in the green-tech industry.
Sure, Schwarzenegger made mistakes during his time in office. Maybe I'm able to say that because it's been two years since I worked for Schwarzenegger or any of his causes. But in countless speeches and interviews and in his just-published autobiography, he too has been bald-faced about his gubernatorial errors.
It may be in vogue today to critique his persona, but as governor, Schwarzenegger's ability to put on a show served as a vehicle for pushing his ideas and policies.
His propensity for looking past the negative and focusing only on the positive allowed him to disregard the status quo in an increasingly partisan and gridlocked Sacramento. And his legacy of accomplishments in environmental protection, political reform and infrastructure investment will have long-lasting benefits for California that outlive shortsighted criticism.