Perhaps the most dynamic part of the race for an entertainment-heavy California congressional district is the cast of competitors: They include a spiritual teacher and author, a radio talk host, an Iraqi war veteran and criminal gang prosecutor, a public defender, a former DreamWorks executive and city controller, and a sitting state senator.
There’s good reason that the field is so full in the 33rd District. It’s a rare opening in the coastal district with the retirement of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) after 40 years in the seat. The district, which stretches along the coast and includes Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Malibu and Beverly Hills, is among the highest profile regions of the country, particularly for Democrats, and it is the locale of much of the political activism that goes on in showbiz, whether through visible causes or through fundraising.
That’s why the race is the rare opportunity for donors to actually vote for a candidate to whom they are also writing a check. And as much as issues like education, jobs and the environment dominate the race, candidates also have been faced with some entertainment-centric issues, like runaway production.
The flight of movies and TV shows from L.A. has forced creative types to trek elsewhere for work, leaving their families for months at a time. The question is whether, at this point, much can be done at the federal level to boost California in the competition to offer the best state tax credits to producers.
While talk of such problems may be a motivating factor for Hollywood donors, “I haven’t see much difference and a lot of daylight on the issues,” says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, professor at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy.
So another factor in the race is who can go to Washington, as a freshman, and have a chance at establishing the sort of national stature that was enjoyed by Waxman for so long.
“This is one of the greatest Democratic districts in the United States, where voters are concerned not only with picking someone who can take care of the district but with a leader who gains national stature,” says political consultant Donna Bojarsky.
A dearth of polling and expected low turnout are variables in the race, but based on campaign finance reports, six candidates, including four Democrats, one independent and one Republican, are the most viable. They will compete in Tuesday’s open primary for two slots to move on to the general election.
Here are the candidates who have garnered the lion’s share of attention in the race:
Supporters include: Eric Cantor, Steve Cooley, Sheldon Adelson
Don’t discount the idea that with so many Democrats vying for the seat, a Republican could end up as one of the two top vote-getters. Carr, a prosecutor and Iraqi war veteran, cites the experience of Bill Bloomfield in the 2012 race, when he garnered 46% of the vote against Waxman. Bloomfield had the benefit of deep pockets and switched from Republican to decline to state before the election, but Carr says that it showed the possibility of an upset.
Redistricting has made the seat slightly less blue, although Democrats will have a 44%-28% registration advantage of Republicans.
“It is a lot less lopsided than it used to be,” Carr says.
He has raised $389,466, including $30,000 in personal loans, and says that for campaign, “the real bottom line is that people are incredibly frustrated and incredibly worried. The worry is bipartisan and palpable, and I feel it.”
He puts runaway production in the context of businesses overall fleeing the state and the U.S. “Part of it is making federal tax and regulatory policy friendly to business,” he says.
When it comes to tax incentives, he says that “you don’t have to have a race to the bottom, but you have to be sensible. There is a difference between a race to the bottom and being punitive. California is being punitive at this point.”
He says that he would use the power of the California congressional delegation to say, ‘We need to focus together on this problem.'”
He also says that, when it comes to mega-mergers, the government should use its antitrust authority sparingly, but says there is need to stop monopolistic combinations. He also says that as the FCC looks to create rules of the road for the Internet, otherwise known as net neutrality, regulations “have to be very, very limited and very clear.”
“I am in favor of net neutrality in principle, but not regulations that are one size fits all,” he says.
He also mentions his own bipartisan life: His wife, a doctor, is a “lifelong Democrat.”
Supporters include: Jeffrey Katzenberg, Haim Saban, Peter Chernin
Greuel, a former Los Angeles city councilwoman and later city controller, entered the race the day that Waxman announced his retirement, quickly lining up a list of studio and media executives for endorsements.
She cites her experience working in the Clinton administration and later for DreamWorks.
“The most common theme that people say to me is, ‘We want someone who goes to D.C. who understands our issues, who will advocate and understand the importance of the industry to this community, and the domino effect it has on the rest of the economy,” says Greuel, a Democrat.
She is a member of the California Film Commission, and says that when it comes to runaway production, the federal government has a role in “being able to ensure that we are able to preserve the middle class, including entertainment.” She also says that tackling piracy will be important as it ultimately has an impact on jobs in show biz.
She has raised over $1 million for the race, lining up a long list of donors that includes Ari Emanuel, Alan Horn and Barry Meyer.
She believes that a big issue that will be facing Congress will be “the changing dynamics of the entertainment industry,” and that it is “critically important” to protect net neutrality and deal with “the broader issue of how we deliver content, and the rights of those who have generated content to get access to the Internet.”
Supporters include: Gwyneth Paltrow, Patrick Whitesell, LL Cool J
The race has well-known political outsiders, but Kanuth, a public defender and Democrat, comes into the race as a real outsider. Nevertheless, he has drawn attention for posting impressive fundraising totals, more than $900,000 since the race started, and he has been the most aggressive in buying ads on local broadcast TV.
Although production tax credits may be a state issue, he believes a U.S. Representative has influence via the bully pulpit. “People will take your calls if you can communicate and be a voice of reason to get things done,” he says.
He says that the failure of anti-piracy legislation to get through Congress in 2012 — the Stop Online Piracy Act — “was the perfect example of Washington’s inability to compromise,” and is calling for “middle ground to promote the best interests of all stakeholders.”
Like his rivals, he says that he is a “strong proponent of net neutrality,” and raises concerns about proposed big media mergers.
He credits his ability to raise money to “people’s frustration, which as reached a critical mass not just with politics in general but the status quo.”
To gain status as a freshman congressman, he says, “you establish your vision, your perspective and your work ethic, and over time you start to persuade people.”
Supporters include: George Takei, David Linde
Lieu, a Democrat, received the endorsement of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, which could be of help to expand his base. His State Senate district covers South Bay beach cities and stretches up to Marina del Rey.
Although Lieu doesn’t have as substantial a list of entertainment donors, in Sacramento he is the principal co-author of pending legislation to expand the state’s tax incentives, and is expected to be among those ushering through the bill as it makes its way through the Senate this summer.
Lieu suggested that there was a role for the federal government in the flight of movies and TV shows from California because “we are losing production to other countries.” While there has been some suggestion that other countries are engaged in questionable trade practices in their efforts to lure production away, he said that a primary trade concern is “when it comes to copyright protection and piracy and intellectual property.”
Lieu also cited his experience as chair of the Joint Committee on the Arts in Sacramento, and said that he would champion and promote the arts in Congress as way to foster creativity in entertainment. “One of the reasons Silicon Beach is growing is because of entertainment,” he says, noting that companies are there to be close to the creative community.
Lieu has raised just over $845,000, including a $55,000 personal loan.
Although if elected he would be a freshman, and perhaps even in the minority, Lieu pointed to Waxman’s ability to spotlight issues even when Republicans were in power, like the Ryan White CARE Act, passed in 1990.
“There are things you can do as a minority member, not only to make the majority accountable, but to shine a light on an issue,” Lieu says.
Supporters include: Michael Lynton, Kevin Tsujihara, Leonard Nimoy
Miller, a Democrat, has raised just over $759,000, with a long list of entertainment industry donors, no doubt many of them familiar with his role as host of public radio’s “Left, Right and Center.” Miller says that his profile as a “thought leader” as well as working as a senior adviser in the White House Office of Management and Budget under Bill Clinton will help establish stature in a first-term.
“Unlike my leading rivals in the race, I am well-known in the policy community and the national media,” he says.
When it comes to runaway production, he says that a U.S. representative can play a role in convening stakeholders and “trying to say, ‘Look, we’ve got a real issue here,’ and to make sure we are not basically being outbid by these other states.”
He also says that “there is a conversation that needs to be had” on whether there should be “some kind of a level playing field so there is not a race to the bottom for jobs at every level.” He said that it was worth exploring whether some kind of “tax credit truce” if it proves counterproductive for “every state to be giving away its tax base.”
Miller also points to his experience as an adviser to FCC chairman Al Sikes in the early 1990s in underscoring his grasp of communications issues.
He also says that the makeup of the district is well positioned to find common ground between the entertainment and tech sectors, given that the 33rd includes the Silicon Beach area of Venice.
“The idea that content needs tech, and tech needs content, shouldn’t be some breakthrough new idea in the 21st Century,” he says.
Supporters include: Eva Longoria, Jane Lynch, Alanis Morrissette
Far and away, most of the national media attention on the race has been due to the presence of Williamson, the author and spiritual teacher, whose “A Course in Miracles” has many industry adherents, and who founded Project Angel Food.
Her own notoriety is the means by which she’s mounted an unconventional candidate’s campaign as an independent, one that has nevertheless been boosted by raising $1.2 million, including $392,824 in loans. A big part of her campaign is to diminish the influence on big money in politics.
“We need to see politics as an act of social artistry,” Williamson says. “If a movie or TV show is derivative, we do not consider it successful. So why should should we be considering a derivative politics? Why should people who make a living repudiating old worn out systems [in media] choose to perpetuate old worn out systems of politics.”
Morrisette wrote and performed a song for her campaign. This week, several actresses, including Frances Fisher and Marcia Cross, created a campaign spot called “I Woke Up,” financed by the Blue America PAC, an independent expenditure committee, with airing on local cable.
Williamson says that her “ability to articulate and popularize issues in a way that feels real and authentic to people, that does not make people’s …eyes glaze over, is a skill set that is needed today.”
She believes that runaway production is a “crisis for many, many people,” and that “we should be protecting the workers of our state. I can’t believe that is even an issue.”
She traces the current debate over net neutrality to her campaign theme of outsized corporate influence in Washington, citing the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act which she says has “allowed the corporate consolidation of media.”
“If an assault on net neutrality is not an assault on democracy, I don’t know what is,” she says.