Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — California's new governor faces daunting obstacles as he tries to erase a $26.6 billion budget gap, but one of the hardest to ignore is a pair of AM-radio shouters whose conservative-minded audience has a track record of making life uncomfortable, even miserable, for politicians who lose the pair's favor.
John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou have used their daily "John and Ken Show" to browbeat and menace any Republican who might consider sidling up with the Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who wants to raise about $50 billion over five years by extending higher sales, vehicle and income taxes.
Their website is a public pillory: the head's of suspect legislators are crudely pictured impaled on what appear to be sharpened wooden spikes — "heads on a stick," they call it. Even Brown, who has yet to win over a single Republican vote, has suggested the threats might be stifling a compromise.
Not everyone is listening — or at least not admitting to it.
"I don't care about John and Ken," says Assemblyman Paul Cook, a Republican whose photograph sits on one of the spikes. But he acknowledges the hosts can whip up a crowd — his office switchboard has been gridlocked in the past when the hosts have ridiculed him and urged listeners to complain.
"I don't believe in those intimidation tactics," adds Cook, who opposes Brown's plan but has earned the show's wrath by failing to endorse a no-tax pledge. "I wish we could bring it up to a higher level."
Dismiss them as political shock jocks or admire them as conservative crusaders, but there is no dispute that Kobylt and Chiampou are entertainment hotshots in Southern California and part of the fabric of conservative politics in the state.
They have been on the air for nearly two decades in the Los Angeles market and have a grip on the loudest megaphone around: their KFI-AM program is the top-rated talk-radio show in the region. About 1.1 million listeners tune in at some point over a week's time.
With prankster instincts, an eye for scandal and bawdy (some might say offensive) humor, they can go on for hours, days, even years about politicians and policies they dislike.
Favorite targets: illegal immigration, global warming, taxes, the mainstream media and generous union contracts.
Some samples: Democrats just want to "feed the union beast." Republicans who might consider tax increases are "Republican worms ... weasels." It's a ruse the state will collapse if taxes are not extended.
"California will still be here, even if California goes bankrupt," Chiampou says.
Though it's difficult to make a precise measure of their influence, Kobylt and Chiampou fit loosely into a conservative media universe of radio shows, websites and blogs that pound away at the Sacramento statehouse and local government in California. They could be considered distant cousins of nationally prominent figures like Rush Limbaugh or Matt Drudge.
They tend to be oppositional, with scant patience for counter-argument. Brown has said solving the budget crisis with cuts alone would devastate California, but the pair belittle such doomsday scenarios
They also have plenty of critics and have been accused of not letting facts clutter a good joke, but a Los Angeles Times magazine in 2006 placed them on a list of the most powerful people in Southern California.
Their rants against former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis were credited with contributing to his eventual 2003 recall, and their listeners flooded Los Angeles City Hall with toilet brushes after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said, "We clean your toilets," while praising the contribution of immigrants.
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