Gov. Criticizes Legislators as ‘Girlie Men’
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger mocked his opponents in the California Legislature on Saturday as “girlie men,” and called upon voters to “terminate” them at the polls in November if they don’t pass his $103-billion budget.
Using tough rhetoric that borrowed from his days as a bodybuilder and actor, the governor said state lawmakers are telling “lies” and are “back to their old habits” after a post-recall burst of bipartisan collaboration.
Legislators, he said at a rally in the food court of the Ontario Mills shopping center, are “part of a bureaucracy that is out of shape, that is out of date, that is out of touch and that is definitely out of control in Sacramento.”
Schwarzenegger added, “They cannot have the guts to come out there in front of you and say, ‘I don’t want to represent you. I want to represent those special interests: the unions, the trial lawyers’.... I call them girlie men. They should get back to the table, and they should finish the budget.”
Democratic lawmakers, gay and lesbian advocates and feminist groups bristled over the governor’s comments, which were greeted with sustained applause by hundreds of people who were invited to the rally through automated phone calls put out by Schwarzenegger’s camp.
The governor used the “girlie men” reference twice in a 16-minute speech aimed at pressuring the Legislature to pass his budget, now 17 days late. The remarks were apparently references to an old “Saturday Night Live” skit parodying Schwarzenegger. Comedians Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon played “pumped-up” bodybuilders with Austrian accents who dismissed anyone without a muscled torso as a “girlie man.”
Though the four leaders in the Senate and Assembly are men, women head some of the Legislature’s most influential committees, ranging from Appropriations to Energy. The California Legislative Women’s Caucus website lists 33 members -- more than one-fourth of the Legislature.
Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) said he was “nonplused” by Schwarzenegger’s comment.
“I don’t know what the definition of ‘girlie man’ is. As opposed to his being a he-man?” Burton asked. “I can’t think of a way to have the he-man and the girlie men join hands around the Capitol and sing ‘Kum Ba Ya.’ ”
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) said, “Those are the kinds of statements that ought not to come out of the mouth” of the governor.
“He says he’s going to ‘terminate’ members in November? I really don’t know what he means by that. That’s not funny any more,” Nunez said.
Frustrated by the stalemate over his budget, Schwarzenegger has been using a series of weekend public appearances to drum up calls to lawmakers demanding completion of the budget. He plans to continue his campaign today at a shopping mall in Stockton.
Having used his charisma and celebrity to build relationships with lawmakers over the last eight months, the governor is adopting a combative new tone. Schwarzenegger said he would strive to oust Democratic lawmakers who vote against his budget.
“I want each and every one of you to go the polls on Nov. 2,” he said Saturday. “That will be judgment day. I want you to go to the polls.... You are the terminators, yes!”
Missing from his speeches are the once routine praise for Nunez’s negotiating skills, or Burton’s arch humor.
“I’m trying to streamline the budget -- make it leaner and more accountable,” the governor said. “But these legislators are playing games right now in Sacramento. We want action, not games. We want action, not dialogue. We want action, not the promises. We want action and not the lies that are up there in Sacramento.”
His habit had been to cite the Legislature’s improving -- if still weak -- job approval rating to demonstrate voter appreciation for the new direction in Sacramento and to encourage bipartisan cooperation.
But on Saturday he invoked the numbers to belittle a Legislature he once described as his “partner.”
“Their approval rating is in the 30s,” he said. “My approval rating is in the 70s, because the people know why I am there. They are the obstructionists up there right now. They are stopping the budget. I am representing you, and the people know they are representing the special interests rather than the public interest.”
The governor’s pugnacious turn raised objections Saturday, with the “girlie man” reference becoming the focus.
“It’s really painful to hear the governor resort to such blatant homophobia,” said Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), chairwoman of the Senate’s Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee. “It’s an old-fashioned way of talking about gay men as to indicate they’re not as strong. So that part is really painful. And I have to say it’s really surprising. It’s like he can’t get his way so he resorts to some kind of name-calling.”
Kuehl, along with Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), belongs to the Legislature’s five-member Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus.
“This type of third-grade insult only clarifies that the governor has lost his balance and is seemingly unable to stay focused on the issues of the budget to date,” Leno said. “By playing to certain voters’ discomfort with gender and sexuality, the governor has exposed himself to be a divider, not a uniter.”
In reply, Rob Stutzman, the governor’s communications director, said, “We’re not going to respond to anyone looking to get their name in the paper.”
Lawmakers and others called upon the governor to apologize.
“He should apologize and he should think twice before he speaks, and I would hope that his wife, Maria, would remind him of that,” said Assemblywoman Sarah Reyes (D-Fresno).
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, a national women’s rights organization with an office in Beverly Hills, said, “Come on. Women are strong. And to denigrate half the human race is pretty sick. But that’s what he’s doing. He’s trying to denigrate the males by denigrating females. But I would say it’s an out-of-date comment and it should be, because it’s so sexist.”