By Michael Thurston
LOS ANGELES, January 3, 2011 (AFP) – Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped down as California “Governator” Monday, defending his record to the last – and keeping fans and others guessing about his next move.
After seven years at the helm of the Golden State, the former champion body builder turned “Terminator” movie megastar and businessman is leaving his adopted home mired in huge financial woes.
But as he prepared to hand over power to Democrat Jerry Brown two months after November 2 polls – Arnie stood by all his decisions.
“History will be the final judge of my administration’s record,” he said in his last weekly radio address. “But I leave office proud of what we have accomplished.”
“I am especially proud that we were never afraid to … make the tough choices, and set aside ideology in favor of compromise. At times this cost me politically. But I always acted in the best interests of Californiaâ€™s future.”
While he impressed many with his transformation into a liberal Republican and green champion who won reelection in 2006, his poll ratings slid in recent years, in line with California’s dire economic fortunes.
A budget crisis in 2010 pushed California, which would have been the world’s eighth largest economy if it were a country, to the brink of bankruptcy, sending its credit-rating plunging and forcing it to pay bills with IOUs.
But while commentators will pick over Schwarzenegger’s political legacy here, many are watching closely to see what the 63-year-old will do next – notably whether he will return to the movies.
“Will I still have the patience to sit on the set and to do a movie for three months or for six months, all of those things? I don’t know,” he tweeted in October.
In an interview with the LA Times last month, he acknowledged he has many other options, from writing his autobiography to the speech-making circuit, to business projects or even a behind-the-camera role in Hollywood.
“From the health industry, to the environmental side, to the political stuff, to writing books, to giving speeches – all of those kinds of things. There’s a huge variety of different doors that can open,” he said.
It is all a long way from his humble beginnings in a small town near Graz in eastern Austria.
In 1968, after winning a string of bodybuilding contests, the penniless 21-year-old came to the United States to pursue his passion.
He earned a business and economics degree from the University of Wisconsin, became a millionaire while winning the Mr. Universe title four more times, and then shrugged off barbs about his thick accent as he turned to acting.
Joining Hollywood’s royalty, his ominous “Terminator” catchphrases “I’ll be back,” and “Hasta la vista, baby” have now entered the English language – and he still uses them frequently as a politician.
Along the way he also married into a political dynasty, wedding Maria Shriver, a niece of former president John F. Kennedy as well as a journalist and author.
His star power would certainly help him pursue a political career – there has even been talk about him joining the Obama administration in some environmental role.
One thing is clear: he doesn’t need the money – he made a reported 30 million a film at his Hollywood height, and refused his salary as California governor – not to mention extensive business interests.
Schwarzenegger remained tightlipped about his options in swansong interview with the Los Angeles Times this weekend, but insisted that, whatever he does, it won’t be for financial reasons.
“I’m financially protected for the rest of my life. But that makes it actually more fun to do things. Because I always believed, never do things just for the money; always do things because you’re passionate about it.”
In his final radio address as governor, he paid tribute to the Golden State.
“My family, my career, all my successes, I owe to California. The opportunity to give something back as Governor has been an immigrantâ€™s dream come true.”