It was like the debut of an environmentally themed buddy cop drama, with a political odd couple uniting against a common foe.
In one chair was California’s governor, Jerry Brown, the cerebral Democrat known for dropping Latin phrases into Capitol news conferences.
In the other was his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican movie star who is fond of finding ways to compare political issues to his championship bodybuilding career.
It’s hard to imagine two more different people serving back-to-back in the same political office, but on Sunday they sat for a joint interview to put a bipartisan spin on fighting climate change, a key issue for both of them.
“It’s important for people to know that Republicans can work with Democrats and vice versa,” Brown said.
Schwarzenegger added, “That is a very important message for the international community, that they should not look at [climate change] in a political way.”
Before meeting with his predecessor, Brown led an event at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Paris. Fifteen leaders of cities, states and provinces from around the globe signed on to an agreement pledging to set tougher standards than national leaders are expected to agree to.
“Start signing,” he told the local representatives, who let out a chuckle, picked up their pens and complied.
Called the Under 2 Memorandum of Understanding, the agreement seeks to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. Brown helped devise the sub-national effort, which is expected to have 100 signatories by the end of the week.
Brown delayed his trip by a day to travel to San Bernardino in the wake of Wednesday’s mass slayings. He arrived Saturday in Paris, where he plans to participate in nearly two dozen events related to the climate summit. On Monday he has half a dozen items on his schedule, among them a roundtable convened by California billionaire and philanthropist Tom Steyer that includes California business leaders.
Although the two California governors first bumped into each other on Saturday night – Brown was leaving a documentary screening; Schwarzenegger was signing autographs – they met again Sunday at the Four Seasons.
In an upstairs meeting room, they sat next to each other with ornate coffee cups and a tray of pastries on the table in front of them. A documentary crew filmed as they spoke to reporters.
Brown was wearing a suit with no tie; Schwarzenegger wore a plaid sport coat and boots with the seal of California.
Although they said bipartisan consensus was possible, it’s Schwarzenegger’s Republican Party that has been the most opposed to taking any action on climate change, sometimes even denying it’s happening.
Schwarzenegger said the lack of national action on the environment was a symptom of broader dysfunction.
“Is anything getting done in Washington?” he said. Schwarzenegger signed into law the landmark 2006 legislation that created California’s cap-and-trade program and provided the foundation for much of the state’s efforts against climate change.
Brown has occasionally criticized Republican climate deniers as “troglodytes,” a word he used again during the interview. (Shortly before leaving for the trip, Brown wrote to officials in Texas and West Virginia and accused them of seeking to score political points in their recent attempt to cast doubt on the legality of one of President Obama’s key climate change initiatives.)
“This is a creature that lives in caves,” he said. “As people hear that word, they’re going to say, what does all that mean? And when they think about it, they may want to walk outside their caves and see the sunshine.”
After the interview, they headed to a restaurant for a reception for the summit’s large California delegation.
As they exited the hotel, one bystander jumped ahead of Brown to get into position to take a picture of Schwarzenegger.
“Go ahead,” Brown said.
Once at the reception, Schwarzenegger gave a speech that touted his solidarity with Brown on climate change.
Gesturing to the current governor, the former Mr. Olympia said, “It is like one mind in two bodies.”
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