Having taken the helm of the troubled state declaring “failure is not an option”, 63-year-old Terminator leaves public office with an approval rating of just 22 per cent and a tripled $28 billion budget deficit.
He leaves as the state deficit grows, schools struggle and federal courts have taken control of part of the prison system.
His replacement, Jerry Brown, a Democrat who was also governor from 1975 to 1983, will be sworn in amid uncertainty over what the former Hollywood actor and bodybuilder will do next.
After seven years in Sacramento, the former strongman and movie star will by his own account hit the speech circuit, keep a hand in political activism and possibly write the autobiography that publishers have wanted him to do for years.
Schwarzenegger says he even might get back into acting if the right script comes along – presumably one appropriate for a 63-year-old father of four with political baggage, advancing age lines and a tinge of gray.
“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,” the governor tweeted in October in a rare exchange about his future plans.
Spokesman Aaron McLear says Schwarzenegger is sorting out “an absolute flood of every conceivable offer” from the corporate world, real estate ventures and the entertainment industry, but the governor insists he won’t make any decisions until after he surrenders the office to his successor, Democrat Jerry Brown.
“I don’t have a plan,” Schwarzenegger told hundreds of supporters and staffers at a private farewell party in Sacramento last month.
He was less guarded in October when, along with plans for speeches and a book or two, he hinted broadly at a continuing role with the environment and political reform, issues that have become part of his mixed legacy at the statehouse.
In the absence of a global climate-change treaty, Schwarzenegger has urged state and regional governments around the world to address greenhouse gases.
This month California regulators approved the nation’s most extensive system giving major polluters financial incentives to discharge fewer greenhouse gases, a key piece of a 2006 climate law championed by the governor.
“There are a lot of important things that I want to say,” Schwarzenegger tweeted. “My struggle for reform will continue, my belief in environmental issues and in protecting the environment will continue.”
One thing is certain: The multimillionaire Schwarzenegger will start earning money, after passing up his $174,000 salary throughout his two terms. His time in office left the governor with plenty of political welts, but the biggest hit was on his own wallet.
State records show Schwarzenegger dumped at least $25 million in direct and indirect payments into two campaigns for governor and other political ventures since 2001, no small sum even for an actor who once commanded $30 million a movie.
That doesn’t include travel costs. He often commuted from Los Angeles to Sacramento several times a week in a private jet at his own expense. He, wife Maria Shriver and his children never moved to Sacramento, preferring their secluded canyon estate a few miles from the Pacific Ocean.
His assets have been held in a private trust since he took office in 2003, but he can return to managing his portfolio, deep in real estate holdings, after stepping down.
His Hollywood future will be the subject of endless speculation. Hollywood insiders say he could take a role as producer or director, but don’t look for him to reappear as a hulking screen hero swinging an automatic weapon.
“He’s a wealthy and clever man. Wealthy and clever men have lots of possibilities,” said longtime Hollywood publicist Michael Levine, who has represented Academy Award winners such as Charlton Heston and Jon Voight.