LOS ANGELES (CBS / AP) — He’s been a governor, a movie star and the world’s greatest body builder, but Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t done yet.
The man who never tires of telling people he’ll be back returned again Monday, this time as a global policy wonk and statesman dedicated to leading America into what he calls a new post-partisan era.
Schwarzenegger, in a dark suit, crisp white shirt and red tie, appeared at the University of Southern California to officially launch the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy with a symposium featuring some of the most notable names in politics and entertainment.
For the former Republican governor, the symposium marked a sudden public re-emergence after leaving office nearly two years ago with a mixed record that he suggested Monday accomplished about half of what he had set out to do.
He’s hoping that through the institute, created with a $20 million commitment from Schwarzenegger and others, he can accomplish the rest, tackling issues such as hunger, health care and global warming.
Officials say he’ll also take an active role in teaching at USC. The institute’s academic director, Nancy Staudt, referred to him several times as “professor Schwarzenegger.”
Schwarzenegger is also publishing his autobiography next week and has a pair of movies in post-production. One of them, “The Tomb,” co-stars his old buddy Sylvester Stallone. The other, “The Last Stand,” opens in January and got a brief plug at the symposium’s afternoon panel discussion on Hollywood and culture.
His return to the spotlight will also include a segment Sunday on “60 Minutes” to promote the book and discuss, among other things, the affair he had with his maid that resulted in a son out of wedlock and destroyed his marriage to Maria Shriver.
No questions were taken during the symposium’s first panel, which was attended by about 700 people and featured Schwarzenegger in an hour-long discussion of partisan politics that was moderated by Cokie Roberts and featured Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and others.
The former governor doffed his tie for the second panel, where he was joined by recording industry executive Jimmy Iovine in a Bruce Springsteen shirt. Other panelists included studio executives Brian Grazer and Ron Meyer, and director James Cameron, who helmed Schwarzenegger’s first two “Terminator” films.
A handful of questions from USC students were taken, but none was addressed to Schwarzenegger.
No mention was made of the maid scandal or the huge budget deficit that Schwarzenegger, who had promised to bring fiscal accountability to politics, allowed to run up during his seven years as governor. His successor, Jerry Brown, has said he’ll drastically cut services if voters don’t approve tax increases in November.
Also unmentioned was Schwarzenegger’s controversial decision during his last hours as governor to commute the involuntary manslaughter sentence of the son of a former political ally. Schwarzenegger said at the time he cut Esteban Nunez’s sentence to seven years from 16 because he thought the latter was excessive. But he also acknowledged he was helping a friend, former state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.
Schwarzenegger did make a brief reference to Shriver’s politics when he said cooperation among Republicans and Democrats is key to solving the nation’s problems.
“I never looked at the Democrats as villains,” he said. “Remember, I was married to a Democrat for 25 years.”
He called repeatedly for bipartisan cooperation, as McCain called the current presidential campaign the most bitter he has ever observed.
“You cannot just do it my way or the highway. I tried that and I failed,” Schwarzenegger said at one point, noting his lack of success when he tried early in his administration to bypass the state Legislature by bringing his agenda directly to the voters in a series of failed ballot initiatives.
Overall, however, he painted a bright picture of his time as governor. During his welcoming remarks, he said his administration took the lead in pushing to stem global warming, provide health care to its citizens, and rebuild the state’s infrastructure while the federal government was gridlocked on those issues.
He also noted that California committed $3 billion to stem cell research when he was governor and created an independent, citizen-led commission to more fairly draw state legislative districts. He didn’t mention that the stem cell research project was made possible when voters passed a ballot initiative creating the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
He said he wants the Schwarzenegger Institute to continue to take on those issues and others, collaborating with innovators of all political backgrounds.
“No ideology has a monopoly on solutions,” he said.
Schwarzenegger showed he could still charm a crowd with one-liners, even though he didn’t use his signature phrase, “I’ll be back,” or even the modified version, “I’m back,” from his latest action film, “The Expendables 2.”
Introduced by USC President C.L. Max Nikias, who called him a larger than life hero, Schwarzenegger said, “Thank you for that fantastic introduction, President Nikias, that’s exactly how I wrote it.”
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