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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We attended a movie screening here in the nation's capital last night. It was a classic Washington political audience: conservative clothes, dark suits, very precisely parted hair. Then, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped into the theater.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): What an exciting crowd. Look at that. Man, things are happening here.

INSKEEP: Schwarzenegger sat on the far left, the seat closest to the door. He ate popcorn and watched a documentary in which he appears. It's about the effort to beat back gerrymandering - redrawing election districts to gain political advantage.

(Soundbite of movie, "Gerrymandering")

Unidentified Man: Gerrymandering is America's best-kept secret.

INSKEEP: The Republican is near the end of a governorship full of unexpected frustration, and now he wants to change the rules under which he operated. This week, with his support, California voted to eliminate political party primaries. Unless courts intervene, candidates for each office will all run in the same primary. And the top two candidates advance, regardless of party.

After the movie, we pulled the governor aside to talk in the theater manager's office. Schwarzenegger says the new system could produce more candidates like him.

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: When I got elected in the recall election, everyone was running. We had 135 candidates. And that's how I got elected, because I appealed to Democrats and Republicans, independents - everybody. And if there would have been no recall election, I wouldn't have been able to win, because I would not have been able to win a Republican primary because I'm too much in the center and not enough - that far to the right.

So this is the problem. People that are in the center usually get punished for being in the center and coming to a compromise, and you get rewarded with the system that is in place now by getting stuck in the ideological corners. And this way, you can't get anything done.

INSKEEP: People, if they've followed California's news at all, know you've had a catastrophic budget situation for years. You've had catastrophic conflicts over issue after issue. Is partisanship really the heart of the problem, do you think?

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: It's a huge problem. If you have always partisan bickering, the whole system becomes dysfunctional and you can't really go and fix the problems that arise.

INSKEEP: When you ran, you said you would try to fix some of the very problems that you're still dealing with today - for example, the long-standing budget problems in California. Did the system beat you in the end?

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: No. As a matter of fact, the budget problem is a different story, because the budget problem that we have is because of the economic slowdown worldwide. So you have a budget problem just about in every country in the world...

INSKEEP: But you've had a structural budget problem...

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: ...and every state. But...

INSKEEP: ...in California.

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: ...we would have only half of the problem right now if we would've had budget reform as I intended for the last six years. But that's -you know, my term is not over yet. So there's a great opportunity this summer during the budget negotiations to have budget reform, which means to have a rainy day fund set aside. And I think we have a good shot this year in the budget negotiations together.

INSKEEP: Is part of the problem unrealistic expectations on the part of the voters and unrealistic promises by candidates? People seem to want a wide range of government services, but don't want to pay any higher taxes to fund them.

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: It's a big problem that legislatures in general promise things to people that they can't keep, and especially when it comes to state employees unions. You know, they can promise the better pensions and better health care and all of this. And then all of a sudden, you're stuck with $500 billion of pension debt for our employees. And all of this is really irresponsible. So that's why we have to also reform our public pension system, because we can't afford it.

INSKEEP: Did you promise too much? You campaigned, for example, on tax cuts to win election in California.

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, we did reduce, remember, through workers' compensation. We have brought back to the state of California, to businesses, $50 billion. Then we passed certain tax incentives and benefits last year where we reduced the cost of doing business.

So, I mean, there's great things that have happened, including - for decades, California did not put any money aside for infrastructure, and we put $42 billion for infrastructure in 2006, an additional $8 billion for infrastructure to rebuild our prisons, $10 billion which is committed two years ago for the high-speed rail. So we're really on the - we're going in the direction of rebuilding California, which was one of those things that I promised.

INSKEEP: That's sort of what I'm asking. You just gave a long list of things that sound valid that you support and that you wanted to fund. And at the same time, you wanted to reduce people's taxes. Were you promising too much?

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: Not at all. No. Because we have to go and give tax incentives to businesses to bring businesses back to California. To me, the most important thing is to look creatively at how we can create the extra revenues rather than just to go and scream more taxes. And by the way, we raised taxes last year, even though - that's the only promise that I did not keep, because I said to the people I will not raise taxes, even though I said I would not sign the pledge not to raise taxes because there could be an emergency. Last year, that emergency came. We had a $60 billion deficit. We were hit very heavy, because California relies very much on construction and on housing, and so we lost a lot of - people did - lost their jobs.

INSKEEP: One other thing, governor: We've just sat through a screening of a movie in which you appear and you've come here to support. It's a movie about a cause, about an important issue: gerrymandering across the country. It makes me wonder if perhaps Al Gore might end up being a model for you: grabbing an issue, making a film about it, publicizing it.

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: You know, I've too many different kind of job offers. I'm in a very unique situation because of my background in athletics that no one else has, in show business, in business and in politics and in nonprofit. So my resume is so interesting, so that's why I will not spend one single second on what should I do after I'm finished.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: I learned from sports that you keep your eye on the ball. I have a lot of things that are on the table that I need to accomplish before I'm finished with this job, and so I concentrate just on that, doing the people's work.

INSKEEP: Governor, thanks very much.

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: Absolutely. My pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who spoke last night here in Washington.

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