Richard Reeves

Arnold's Part Time Job: Governor

LOS ANGELES -- You could not make this up:

Two days before he was inaugurated, the governor of the largest state in the union signed a contract with the publisher of several magazines and newspapers that guarantees him 1 percent of the advertising revenue of the publisher's most popular magazines. The contract guarantees him a minimum of $1 million a year, though in reality the pay will be significantly more than that.

After the inauguration, the governor vetoed legislation that would have regulated the use of the products that provide the bulk of the magazines' revenues. The contract specifies that while the governor will do many things for the publisher, including writing a column, he will not be required to do them during his normal business hours on weekdays as governor.

No wonder Arnold Schwarzenegger loves America so much.

Oh, by the way, the magazines, which are about body-building -- the principal products being advertised are nutritional supplements -- are owned by the company that publishes the National Enquirer, the Globe and the Star, national tabloids that used to attack Schwarzenegger as an adulterer and other things ordinary politicians prefer not be called.

One more thing (there are many more): The governor is being paid a good deal more -- an estimated $8 million over five years -- for his part-time gig than the $175,000 a year he gets as governor (of which he takes only $1). The magazines are also paying him a lot more than the chairman and CEO of American Media Inc., the company that owns all the magazines and newspapers.

This is what California got for spending millions upon millions of dollars a year and a half ago to impeach a boring governor because he seemed to think the most important part of his job was political fund-raising. Forget that and the side deals, too: Schwarzenegger has raised more political money, more than $50 million, than the deposed Gray Davis could ever have dreamed of collecting.

But the big guy is a lot more fun. In the magazine contracts he is referred to as "Mr. S." I mean, are they getting entertainment like this in Nebraska?

The story, documented by Securities and Exchange Commission records, was broken last Thursday by Peter Nicholas and Robert Salladay of the Los Angeles Times. A great job! And so far there is no evidence that Karl Rove or any other anonymous source is involved. For the record, the magazines involved are called Flex and Muscle & Fitness. The August issue of M&F has 257 pages, and 110 of them are advertisements for nutritional products. The bill Schwarzenegger vetoed last year would have banned some of those supplements for interscholastic athletes and prohibited supplement manufacturers from sponsoring public school athletic events.

It could be said that this is what you get from "citizen politics." This is what you get when you turn to American business, particularly the American entertainment business, for political leadership. It is a clean little secret, I think, that in our country the public ethic is higher than the private ethic. Maybe it is because there are more laws regulating the behavior of public servants, but in my experience, at least, politicians and bureaucrats are a lot more honest than businessmen.

Governor Schwarzenegger, the charming Mr. S., an accomplished businessman in several tough businesses, has been a delight and a disaster as governor. For what it's worth, his approval ratings have dropped by more than a third in the past six months. Last Monday, George Skelton, the Times' Sacramento columnist, counted the ways Schwarzenegger had lost his early popularity. He played the bully, said Skelton; he avoided Sacramento; he evolved into a partisan Republican; he picked the wrong enemies, particularly teachers and nurses; he broke his promises.

Well, we got our money's worth -- and so obviously did he. It was a great show, and he is a great showman. But it looks as if there is not going to be a sequel. Good night, Arnold!

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

More like Richard Reeves