California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is taking some heat this week for mockingly calling Democratic lawmakers “girlie men” in a speech, but a spokeswoman for the governor said he wouldn’t apologize.
The zinger was tossed out at a rally on Saturday, where the Republican governor blamed state Democrats for delaying the state budget by catering to special interests.
“If they don’t have the guts to come up here 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 … if they don’t have the guts, I call them girlie men,” Mr. Schwarzenegger told a cheering crowd at a shopping mall in Ontario, Calif.
“The governor used it as an effective way to convey wimpiness,” said spokeswoman Margita Thompson. “Politicians are wimps because they are letting the special interests push them around.”
When asked whether he would apologize, Ms. Thompson said, “It was meant to convey a point. He conveyed it, and it’s over.”
The term “girlie men” comes from a “Saturday Night Live” skit in which two arrogant, Schwarzenegger-like weight lifters repeatedly use the phrase to insult people who don’t have bulging biceps like theirs.
Democrats said Mr. Schwarzenegger’s comment was offensive to women and homosexuals and distracted from budget negotiations.
“It uses an image that is associated with gay men in an insulting way, and it was supposed to be an insult. That’s very troubling that he would use such a homophobic way of trying to put down legislative leadership,” said state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, who contended that the governor had resorted to “blatant homophobia.”
Ms. Kuehl is one of five members of the Legislature’s five-member Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus.
Assemblyman Mark Leno, San Francisco Democrat and chairman of the caucus, called the governor’s comment “as misogynist as it is anti-gay.”
The governor and state Democrats have been in a budget battle, sparring over a few items in particular. As part of the budget, Republicans want to repeal a law that makes it easier for people to sue their employers and another law that prohibits schools from using private companies for services, forcing them to use union labor. Democrats have refused to agree to these repeals. Each side has accused the other of catering to special interests.
Assemblyman John Campbell, Irvine Republican, said Mr. Schwarzenegger is correct on the substance of his remarks.
“[Democrats] cannot vote against the unions and trial lawyers,” said Mr. Campbell, noting that “ridiculous” laws such as the one encouraging lawsuits against employers keep California’s economy down by preventing business growth and job creation.
He said the girlie-men phrase wasn’t offensive, and that “most people think it’s amusing.” The “Saturday Night Live” skit featuring the two bodybuilders actually poked fun at tough-guy Mr. Schwarzenegger, Mr. Campbell noted, so by referring to the skit this weekend, the governor was almost being “self-deprecating.”
This story is based in part on wire service reports.