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COVER STORY

Will This Ever Be a Two-Party Town?

June 22, 1997|Robert W. Welkos

In a richly paneled upstairs banquet room at McCormick & Schmick's Fish House just off Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio) rose one recent afternoon to address a small gathering of entertainment industry figures.

Inside the Beltway of Washington, the boyish-looking Kasich wields enormous power as chairman of the House Budget Committee. But at this luncheon, the Republican lawmaker wondered aloud why Hollywood, which so often has important business and creative issues before Congress, has avoided making contact with his office.

"I have never ever had anybody from the entertainment industry ever ask to come into my office to sit down and talk to me about whatever your challenges are," Kasich told the luncheon, which was sponsored by a group called the Wednesday Morning Club.

Some contend that this failure to cultivate GOP lawmakers has hurt the entertainment industry since House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and his party took over the leadership of Congress in 1995.

"I think Hollywood has suffered greatly in the last two years from being a one-party town," said David Horowitz, president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture and a founder of the Wednesday Morning Club. "There is a reason we have a two-party system. Even Albania has them."

To promote diversity of thought and expression within the entertainment community, Horowitz and screenwriter Lionel Chetwynd decided to create the Wednesday Morning Club. Horowitz stressed that it is not a pro-Republican group, but even Kasich was moved to comment about this tiny outpost situated in heavily Democratic Hollywood.

"It's my understanding that many of you that are in this room today don't necessarily fit in very well in this town and that many of you here today don't always get the invitations to all the fancy, glitzy things that sometimes go on that people tend to be attracted to," the congressman said to a chorus of applause and laughter.

Since the era of the "Hollywood 10" a half-century ago, when Congress went hunting for Communists in the movie industry, the creative community has eyed Republicans suspiciously. When protests mounted over the Vietnam War, the industry seemed awash in the political left.

Yet, over the years, criticism of Hollywood has come from both parties.

So in the spirit of self-preservation, the business side of Hollywood has made campaign contributions to politicians in both parties.

Through their spokesman, Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the studios have frequently interacted with key GOP chairmen of powerful committees that control trade, telecommunications, copyright and other regulatory matters vital to entertainment.

One of those lawmakers who has recently become the darling of Hollywood is Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of the House Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications, trade and consumer protection.

Tauzin believes it is high time Hollywood realizes that on issues such as 1st Amendment freedoms, the creative community can find supporters among GOP conservatives on the Hill.

"Our nature is, in fact, to say to commercial broadcasters that they ought to be free to conduct their commercial business," Tauzin said.

Despite calls for government regulation of TV program content, Tauzin says he does not support it.

"What we are saying is, outside of those legitimate limits on 1st-Amendment and public-interest requirements, this concept of putting government-preferred programming on the air is a repulsive idea to Republican conservatives, yet it is one embraced by the liberal left," Tauzin told The Times. "It ought to be repulsed by Hollywood."

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