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Campaigners pave Arnie's path to White House

The Age | November 23, 2004
By Gerard Wright

Moves are afoot to allow foreign-born US citizens to run for president.

The questions began after his election but before he had even moved to Sacramento, the state capital of California, to begin his new career as Governor.

Could this actor, this 30-year not-quite-American actually become the president of the United States? The question was fascinating but moot.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is, famously, an American citizen but born in Austria, and therefore unqualified for the White House. But with his first year in office now past, it is a question being posed again, with a wink and a nod from Arnie himself.

Last week a series of TV ads ran in California, coinciding with Mr Schwarzenegger's first year in his new job. They called for an amendment to the US constitution to allow foreign-born, naturalised US citizens to run for the presidency.

The ads were run by a group called Amend for Arnold and Jen. Jen is Democrat Jennifer Granholm, the Canadian-born Governor of Michigan. The ads serve as an adjunct to a bill introduced by Orrin Hatch, a Republican senator from Utah.

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Senator Hatch's bill would allow naturalised citizens of more than 20 years to run for president. The spokeswoman and co-founder of the group is Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones, 48, a partner in a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

During last year's California election campaign, which led to the recall of Democratic governor Gray Davis and the election of Mr Schwarzenegger, Ms Morgenthaler-Jones was a fixture at the Arnie rallies, waving a Remarkable Women for Arnold placard. She was also a member of Mr Schwarzenegger's election finance committee.

Ms Morgenthaler-Jones told The Los Angeles Times that the Governor was delighted with her efforts. But for every action, and especially this one, there is an opposite, if not equal reaction. Americans Against Arnold is run by Alex Jones, a Texas DJ.

In a press release with a letterhead that shows Mr Schwarzenegger in bodybuilding pose giving a Nazi salute, Mr Jones warns against an obvious, well-focused campaign to mould public opinion in favour of amending the constitution for Arnold Schwarzenegger, "narcissistic megalomaniac."

For all of Mr Schwarzenegger's much-vaunted charisma, and a canny ability to use it at precisely the right time and place - as in four days before the presidential election, in a campaign appearance alongside President George Bush in the crucial state of Ohio - an amendment to the constitution is a big undertaking.

Firstly, it would require a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress. If approved there, it would then require the same majority in a vote of the states. There have been only 27 amendments in the 216-year history of the constitution.

"I think it is a good idea to open it up and to let foreign-born people also participate in that process," Mr Schwarzenegger said last week.

The signs in Sacramento are that Arnie would like to be one of them. In his first year on the job he raised $US26.5 million ($A33.8 million) for election and other disbursements.

In a state where the budget deficit for this financial year alone will be $US6.5 billion, and a credit rating that remains the worst in the US, this fund-raising ability is the true measure of the worth of a politician.