Oprah: Yes, how can you compete with a legacy that includes the presidency of the United States, the development of the Peace Corps, and the creation of the Special Olympics?
Maria: You can't. It's unbelievable public service. So I found my own way to contribute in my own area, journalism. It's competitive. It's creative. And no one else in my extended family is a journalist. I was feeling really good about my career in journalism—and then I lost it.
Maria: It all happened so quickly. NBC felt there could be a perception of a conflict of interest between my news job and Arnold's becoming governor. It was uncharted water. The producers said, "If we put you on the air while Arnold's campaigning, it'll look like we're endorsing him." A lot of people were uncomfortable with that, so they took me off the air while he was running for office. I thought I'd return to reporting when the campaign was over. And then he won, and that was that.
Oprah: Were you surprised?
Maria: I was surprised by the fact that he was even running. I was surprised that I was suddenly the First Lady of California. I was surprised that I lost my job. This all happened in 60 days. When Arnold decided to run in 2003, we were about to build a new house, and Terminator 3 was coming out, so Arnold was very involved in that. Also, my brothers and I had been focusing on my father; we'd discovered he had Alzheimer's. Around that time, I went to the Special Olympics in Ireland. When I came home, news of a California recall election was building steam. That's when Arnold told me, "I want to run."
Oprah: When you married him, you must have felt pretty safe that you were about as far away from politics as you could be.
Maria: Yes! I married a bodybuilder who became an actor and lived in California. No one thought, "Well, there's somebody who'll go into politics." I don't think I'd ever even met a Republican before I met Arnold. When he told me he was interested, I said I'd spent my whole life getting away from politics. My experience with politics was one of loss. My father lost his vice presidential bid on the McGovern-Shriver ticket in 1972. Campaigning was a great experience for me because it's where I was introduced to journalism, but the rejection of my father was so painful, so personal; I remember the sting of that defeat. Then my father tried to run for president in 1976, and that didn't go anywhere. People who said they would support him didn't. I'd learned early on that political life was about constant travel and being surrounded by 50 people in the house, and either you lose or you get assassinated. So I wanted nothing to do with that.
Oprah: What made you change your mind?
Maria: I realized that if I said no, I'd be stopping my husband from achieving his dream. It was a catch-22. So I told Arnold that he should do what he wanted to do, and I found myself in an intense, tumultuous campaign. Two months later, I was the Democratic First Lady of a Republican administration. Whoa! I was elated about Arnold's win, but I didn't want to be involved; I just wanted to go back to my job. But then NBC decided they were uncomfortable keeping me.
Oprah: Was that one of the more devastating moments of your life?
Maria: I had been fired once before, from the CBS Morning News; that was really devastating.