Looking for Drama at a News Conference

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

The news conference supporting Propositions 1A to 1F at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce featuring Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, Chamber president Gary Toebben and other business and public sector leaders didn’t promise much drama. But, I attended the proceedings in hopes that some local color or unusual event would set this conference apart.

About forty teachers, business executives and carpenters stood behind the speakers, the carpenters in their hard hats and orange vests adding some color and visual impact for the cameras.

Mayor Villarigosa “humanized” the proceedings by revealing he was lobbied for support by the governor at Washington’s Gridiron Club over two beers and a stogie.
Villaraigosa declared that the propositions were the “only way out of the morass” in Sacramento, criticizing both the left and the right for trying to oppose the package.

Nothing special here. But, then I saw the possibility of some fireworks. The event was held in the lobby of the Chamber of Commerce building. Other organizations have offices in the building and behind double glass doors to the left just as you enter the lobby is the organization, L.A. Best Babies Network. I’m not sure what they do but right under the bold letters on the wall identifying the organization, was painted the inscription: Presented by First 5 LA.

Here it was: Opportunity to escape the ordinary. Check your programs, folks. Go to the page on Proposition1D. That’s the measure designed to help fill the budget hole by taking about $600 million dollars from the First 5 reserves for a couple of years to help balance the state budget. Many First 5 supporters are opposed to this approach.

I envisioned someone storming out of the office in the middle of the news conference to cry, “Stop!” Or at a minimum, someone quietly exiting through the glass doors to circulate among the reporters with fact sheets in hand and to make their case against Prop 1D.

It is not uncommon for opponents of ballot measures to show up at a news conference to offer the reporters a different point of view than the one espoused by those who called the conference. But, alas, the glass doors remained closed.

News conferences can produce dramatic moments. I recall a ballot measure in 1984 sponsored by Howard Jarvis on tax issues that opponents claimed was opposed by Paul Gann, Jarvis’s partner on Proposition 13. The opponents called a news conference to announce Gann’s position, and right in the middle of the announcement there was Gann walking into the back of the room saying those who called the news conference were wrong and he had just decided to support the measure.

Now there’s a plot twist any Hollywood scriptwriter would admire.

No, they don’t make news conferences like they used to. So, it was up to the reporters to make things lively. And, they did a good job with a couple of interesting questions.

The mayor was asked why it was that he was supporting a budget plan that included tax increases to solve the state budget deficit when he was not calling for tax increases to close the city budget shortfall?

The mayor answered that the state budget problem was bigger than that of the city and that California would go bankrupt if the measures did not pass. The governor jumped in by adding that the state deficit was so large, forty to fifty percent of the entire general fund, that the budget could not be fixed by cuts alone.

The governor responded to a question about which measure was essential and which was expendable by declaring that all the measures are intertwined and all were necessary to both solve the immediate fiscal problem and establish long-term reform.

I think you could argue without much resistance that the package could stand without Proposition 1F to deny legislative pay raises if the budget is in deficit. But, everyone wants to hug that proposition all the closer. It’s the only one assured of passing. One safe rule in politics: If you want the public’s support, kick the legislature.

The Q and A session was short and the news conference ended without incident or memorable repartee. The goal of the new conference was achieved efficiently and the news of the endorsements for the ballot measures was spread far and wide.

But, there won’t be any stories to tell about this news conference twenty-five years hence.

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