Think of Tuesday’s elections as a massive demand for a rewrite of the American political script and you’ll gain insight into the sea-change happening in D.C.
Given Hollywood’s generally leftward tilt, the Democratic gains made it hard for some industry lobbyists to contain their enthusiasm. Motion Picture Assn. of America topper Dan Glickman, a former Democratic member of Congress, will be in much friendlier territory. The GOP made little secret of its displeasure when he was named to the MPAA post and retaliated.
“We intend to keep working on our strategic initiatives in the same bipartisan fashion we have,” he said. “But personally? Obviously, I took some positive feelings from the results.”
Indeed, Glickman lost his House job in 1994 — when Republicans did to Democrats what Democrats just did to Republicans. More important, though, is the fact that Glickman has some longstanding personal relationships with some of his former House colleagues who soon will take over influential jobs.
“I used to serve on the House Judiciary Committee with John Conyers when he was the No. 2,” Glickman said of the Michigan Democrat now in line to chair that committee, which handles copyright issues. “And John Dingell” — also of Michigan and in line for chairmanship of the powerful House Commerce Committee — “is a close friend.”
Glickman also expects better access to the House tax committees, which haven’t exactly been supportive of Hollywood lately. “Our industry got burned on some tax issues in the last couple years,” he said. “But I feel more comfortable, because of my personal relationships, that we won’t be discriminated against now.”
It was widely understood that Hollywood got burned on taxes as payback for having hired Glickman when all of Congress as well as the White House were under GOP control. Republican leaders fumed that one of their own didn’t get the job, and Glickman felt the backlash enough during his first year that he hired GOP aide John Feehery — former chief spokesman for soon-to-be-former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) — to handle most of the MPAA’s lobbying on Capitol Hill.
Glickman said because of Tuesday’s elections, he will do more lobbying himself on the Hill, although Feehery still will take the lead since he has good relations with Democrats. Feehery seems to have taken a cue from Glickman’s predecessor, Jack Valenti, who famously worked both sides of the aisle, admonishing just about everyone with his mantra, “Never alienate anyone today who you might need as an ally tomorrow.”
Since Hastert, arguably Feehery’s best ally, will not even be part of the House minority leadership, Feehery’s good relationships with Dems become all the more important.
Even though Hollywood’s main concerns — content protection and improved trade relations — tend to draw bipartisan support, Glickman generally described a more affable working atmosphere in the making, and not just for himself. “A lot of our member executives are personal friends with Nancy Pelosi,” who’s poised to become the first female speaker of the house.
“Think of it, the House led by a woman!” said an industry lobbyist happily in awe of the prospect. “I’d like to think a woman will do things differently.”
Erik Huey, who represents SAG and AFTRA interests in D.C., is hoping for some change. He salutes the many Republicans who he said have proved immensely helpful to artists on copyright and content protection. But he will not miss the attitude he said he encountered from GOP staffers during his effort to stop Congress from including indecency fines for performers.
“They were telling me that performer fines were payback for all the performers like Bruce Springsteen and the Dixie Chicks who criticized the president and supported (2004 presidential nominee John) Kerry,” Huey said. “I think we can expect a more pro-artist approach” under a Democratic-controlled House.
In day-to-day matters, the election results won’t have a huge impact on industry reps, since lobbying shops routinely hire both Democrats and Republicans. “It’s more a matter of your personal preference,” one lobbyist said. “The Ds among us are happy, the Rs are unhappy, but we’ll all be making more or less the same phone calls tomorrow.”
Which isn’t to say there will be no changes made. At the very least, reps for media congloms interested in acquiring more properties will have to work harder because Dingell, in a conference all with reporters Wednesday, made clear his intention to scrutinize anything FCC chairman Kevin Martin does to loosen media ownership rules. A Democrat-controlled House is going to have a consumer-oriented point of view, rather than a business-oriented one.
“If I’m Kevin Martin, I’m hating life right now,” said the lobbyist pleased with Pelosi as speaker-in-waiting. “He’s going to get hauled up to the Hill and probably get the crap beaten out of him on ownership.”
But as lobbyists know perhaps better than anyone, things change in Washington. “It would be a mistake to clear all the Republican names out of your Rolodex,” Huey said. “So many of the issues are bipartisan, and the Republicans will be in the majority again one day. It wouldn’t be smart to start singing, ‘Ding, dong, the witch is dead.’ “