Sunday, June 19, 2022



Dramatis Personae:

Tom Ammiano (1941 - )

American politician and LGBT rights activist from San Francisco, California. Ammiano, a member of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus, served as a member of the California State Assembly from 2008 to November 30, 2014.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (1947 - )

Austrian-American actor, film producer, businessman, former bodybuilder and politician who served as the 38th governor of California between 2003 and 2011.

The insult:

In the late 2000’s, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s popularity was falling, primarily due to a growing budget deficit. Popular at election, the Governator had lost ground, one of his greatest and most vocal critics being former San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.

Ammiano, an LGBT activist who had worked with famed San Francisco Supervisor and LGBT advocate Harvey Milk in the 70’s, was one of the most liberal members of the Assembly. His left-leaning bills were repeatedly knocked back by Schwarzenegger.

In October 2009, a Democratic Party fundraiser was held at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, one of the premier Democratic events right and held on Ammiano’s home turf, Gov. Schwarzenegger made a surprise appearance. For Ammiano sitting in the audience, this was just too much. As soon as former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown introduced him, Ammiano immediately shouted “You lie!” and continued to yell while walking out in protest, including shouting to the Governor that he could “kiss my gay ass.”

As a Republican at a Democratic event, the Governor had expected some jeers but not Ammiano’s outburst. The remarks made national news and Schwarzenegger was deeply embarrassed.

The revenge:

Assembly Bill 1176, authored by Ammiano, was considered by many to be an extremely easy bill to pass. As it was going to help the Port of San Francisco with financial districts and other issues, it was seen as a general benefit to the city. Even Assembly and Senate Republicans didn’t have any issues with it. The Assembly had passed it 78-0, with the Senate following up with a 40-0 vote. Every political analyst at the time had it down as uncontroversial and was sure to be signed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

To the shock of many, Governor Schwarzenegger’s office announced that AB 1176 was vetoed.

For San Francisco, this was a huge blow, as they needed help with financing their waterfront .

For Assemblyman Ammiano, he was livid for two reasons:
  • Schwarzenegger had just foiled one of his campaign promises in dramatic fashion.
  • Arnold sent him a personal note in his veto., to wit:

The kicker is to read downwards the first letter of each line in the body of the letter.

The aftermath:

While Ammiano’s remark only four days before had made some national news, Schwarzenegger’s veto made it international.

The Governor immediately said that this had all been an accident and unintentional. However, A UC Berkeley professor actually wrote a paper on the incident and calculated that it was a 1 in 86 billion chance that that exact wording would have appeared like that.

Schwarzenegger’s popularity immediately jumped up and he was emboldened to veto more bills than usual that year. As the Great Recession was currently happening at the time, this actually kept spending lower and probably helped reduce the financial crunch California was in during the 2008-2012 budget crisis.

Ammiano never really recovered from the slight. Once one of the Bay Area’s most prominent politicians, even nearly winning the San Francisco mayoral race in 1999, Ammiano was out of the Assembly in 2014 and hasn’t returned to politics since.

Schwarzenegger himself maintained that the veto message had all been a coincidence until 2019. That year, during an interview on The Late Late Show with James Corden, Schwarzenegger admitted to what had really happened.

“Well, there was one Legislator that I didn’t like at all,” noted Schwarzenegger to Corden. ” and so I vetoed his bill, but I really wanted to make sure that he got the message. So I wrote each line in the veto message. Each line starts with a certain letter, that when you go down the line, it says [expletive] you.

“And at the press conference the next day when they discovered that, the press, they said to me ‘Did you know that this said [expletive] you’? And I said ‘No, no. Wait a minute. Where does it say that? I did not know that’.”

To date, a hidden veto message hasn’t appeared since, but every legislator since the incident knows to keep an eye out for that sort of thing.

“We’re reminded now and then to look out for that sort of thing,” said “Dana,” a State Capitol staffer to the Globe. “No one has forgotten what Arnold did.”


California Globe

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