The Mean Green Machine

He's put the hummers in storage. He's told friends he was deeply impressed by Al Gore's new global-warming movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." And as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hit the campaign trail last week, he had a new look: a bright green bus emblazoned with a mural of Yosemite National Park. At Schwarzenegger's first stop, near Redding, Calif., along the banks of the picturesque Sacramento River, a woman asked him what he'd do about high gas prices. Schwarzenegger promised to go after price-gouging oil companies, then launched passionately into his plan to build a "Hydrogen Highway" and to impose strict limits on greenhouse-gas emissions, making California a model for the nation. "You have to have a vision of a clean California," he said. "And then go out and build it."

Schwarzenegger talked about environmental issues in his maiden political voyage three years ago, but not like this; in 2006 he's made it a centerpiece of his re-election campaign. For a Republican on the ballot in an anti-Bush season, maybe it is smarter to run green than Red. "You don't see that bus saying, vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger, republican," the governor told NEWSWEEK. Discontent over the Iraq war, rising gas prices and illegal immigration have left President George W. Bush with a 28 percent approval rating in the latest California Field Poll. And last week, even though Republicans spent $5 million on the race, GOP candidate Brian Bilbray only narrowly won the House seat vacated by former congressman Randy (Duke) Cunningham, now imprisoned for bribery--pulling ahead after he slammed Bush's plans for immigration reform.

Even though he hired a team of Bush consultants to run his re-election campaign, Schwarzenegger doesn't hesitate to hit Bush, either. (He called Bush's plan to send National Guard troops to the Mexican border "half-baked.") As Schwarzenegger enjoys a resurgence in his own poor ratings, he's done some of his strongest Bush-bashing on the environment. "We cannot wait for the United States government to get its act together on the environmental issue," Schwarzenegger told NEWSWEEK. "We have to create our own leadership."

In California, where 87 percent of voters say that environmental issues matter in choosing a candidate, that's a smart course. "We're about bringing people together," Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver, said. "Democrats, Republicans, independents, greens. We're the only state in America doing that."

Environmental issues occupy an unusually prominent role on the California ballot this fall. Tens of millions of dollars will be spent on the California Clean Air Campaign, a ballot measure that would impose a wellhead tax on oil companies operating in California and divert the money--an estimated $4 billion--to finance alternative-energy development. The measure has already attracted nationwide opposition from the oil industry. Schwarzenegger said he will oppose the measure--"I'm against new taxes. Period." State Treasurer Phil Angelides, who clinched the Democratic nomination to face Schwarzenegger, enjoys the support of the state's major environmental groups and Hollywood eco-glitterati; he backs the initiative. "The governor is blinded by his Republican ideology from making the right decision," Angelides told NEWSWEEK. "It's going to take a lot more than a green bus to improve his environmental credentials."

Over the next five months, Schwarzenegger and Angelides will try to out-green each other, says Marc Baldassare of the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. "Very few issues resonate with Californians more, especially when there is such a perceived lack of leadership from Washington." One of Schwarzenegger's first campaign ads touts his environmental record: a 25 million-acre land conservancy in the Sierras, a solar-roof initiative and new statewide energy-efficiency standards. This summer Schwarzenegger will showcase his Climate Action Plan, which includes a bill he's backing to cap the state's greenhouse-gas emissions. "He is the greenest governor in the country, bar none," says Ralph Cavanaugh of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who gave Schwarzenegger his personal endorsement.

Meanwhile, Angelides is struggling to recover from a damaging Democratic primary, in which his opponent ran television ads accused him of polluting during his days as a real-estate developer. Angelides fought back with endorsements from major environmental groups and has been furiously touting his own green credentials: a plan to buy up coastal property and investing the state's $270 billion pension plans in renewable-energy and clean technologies. And, in case anyone's counting, he says, the Angelides family owns three hybrids. May the greenest man win.