Arnold Schwarzenegger is used to blowing things up: aliens, the T-1000, state budgets.
Now, the former action hero and ex-California governor is taking on something vastly less cinematic, but no less daunting: redistricting reform.
“In the movies, you solve this problem very quickly,” Schwarzenegger said. “You go in the room, you break the door down, and you see all these guys mapping out the district lines and all this stuff, fixing the system—you just go blow up the room, burn the maps, throw everyone out the window, and your job is done.”
He waited for the laughter, which comes. “But that’s in the movies.”
Some days Schwarzenegger, who at 69 still cuts an imposing figure, poses for photos with people who’ve gotten his face tattooed on their arms. Some days, he meets with lawyers and hashes out legal strategy for the Supreme Court case coming in October that could lead to the end of partisan redistricting.
Some days, those are the same day.
Schwarzenegger is preparing to throw himself into a public and behind-the-scenes campaign to build momentum around what’s become a defining cause of his post-gubernatorial career. He has a Terminate Gerrymandering Crowdpac that he’s pledged to match dollar-for-dollar. He’ll be appearing at events, meeting with lawyers, having his team jump in to rewrite incomprehensible charts of the “efficiency gap” and other technicalities ahead of Gill v. Whitford, the Wisconsin gerrymandering challenge that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a few hours after he finished speaking, called “the most important” case of the Supreme Court’s next term at an event at Duke Law School. Redistricting reform advocates think Anthony Kennedy, meanwhile, is looking for a way to be with them, though they’re not sure. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by former Attorney General Eric Holder, supports the challenge but isn’t counting on it as central to its own efforts.
After sitting for a short CNN interview, Schwarzenegger was feeling a little cramped. Blowing through the equipment and the TV makeup perched on a chair, he commandeered an empty committee room in the Rayburn building, where most senior House members have their offices.
He looked up, impatient for his next interview to get started already. “Where is your machine?” said the man perhaps most famous for playing a machine from the future. “Go get your machine!”
“I wish we could do like John Travolta with Saturday Night Fever, where he starts dancing. He’s disco dancing, and then all of a sudden, within one year, you have a million more discothèques all over the world,” Schwarzenegger told me for POLITICO’s Off Message podcast, once the machine (actually two microphones and a digital recorder) was set up. “You wish that you could do the same thing with the environmental issues or in the redistricting or good government practice.”
Schwarzenegger hasn’t been in office for 6 1/2 years, but he’s still self-consciously a post-partisan politician—an ideological chameleon whose skin-changing ways have been compared to Trump’s.