LA shock jocks make big impact in Calif politics

By Michael R. Blood

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 14 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

They turned up the pressure after the Los Angeles City Council agreed to pay black firefighter Tennie Pierce $2.7 million to settle a racial harassment lawsuit in which he claimed he had been tricked into eating dog food by co-workers. Villaraigosa vetoed the settlement, which was slashed by more than $1 million.

In 2009, former state Assembly Minority Leader Mike Villines was eviscerated on air for his vote to raise taxes to help close the state budget deficit. After relentless skewering, he struggled to a 1-point victory in the Republican primary for state insurance commissioner against a little-known government worker who spent less than $5,000 on his campaign. Villines went on to lose in November.

Their fierce resistance to higher taxes is another push-back against what Kobylt sees as an eroding quality of life in the nation's most populous state. He places much blame on Sacramento and its workers, or "cubicle pigs."

"The state has really gone to hell in the last 10 years," Kobylt said in an interview Thursday. "We look for explanations for why life has changed so much."

Politics is "under-covered, drastically under-covered, by all forms of media" in the region, Kobylt says. "We make it relevant to your life."

Brown needs a two-thirds vote in the Assembly and Senate to place the tax question before voters in a June special election, which means he needs to enlist at least two Republicans in the Senate and two Republicans in the House. He also has called for $12.5 billion in spending cuts.

Lately, the show has focused on five Republican senators who are continuing to negotiate with Brown, seeking in return a state spending cap, a freeze on pension benefits for government workers and reduced businesses regulation.

"What Jerry Brown and the union thugs would like to do is snooker" the Republicans, Kobylt warns.

Subtle, it's not. The noisy, high-paced show can zigzag into issues from Charlie Sheen's meltdown to movie reviews. It's become a requisite stop for candidates eager to reach their big conservative audience, though the hosts can be insistent interrogators — and unpredictable.

Meg Whitman, the wealthy Republican candidate for governor, learned that the hard way last year. The hosts lambasted her for weeks, accusing the GOP candidate of pandering to Hispanics in hopes of winning a handful of votes. They didn't let up when she appeared on the show.

Republican National Committee member Shawn Steel says Kobylt and Chiampou are too critical of all things Republican, and not fair or balanced. But he adds that Whitman badly misjudged the show's influence. She lost to Brown after spending more than $170 million, a national record.

Asked about the show's clout, Whitman consultant Mike Murphy responded in an e-mail, "I've always wanted them to have (the) guts to put their names on the ballot and actually run for office themselves. It would be a character building experience for them. They'd lose big."

Their impact is considered mostly limited to Republican primaries, a natural fit for their conservative audience. The hosts are registered as political independents, although Kobylt doesn't consider himself anchored to conservative or liberal ideology.

"They are preaching to the choir," says Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, an analysis of legislative and congressional races, who once was a guest on the show.

"They just reinforce a message their listeners want to hear."

In a state with a Democratic tilt, the track record for their favored candidates is a long way from perfect — recent case in point, Steve Poizner, who was clobbered by Meg Whitman in last year's Republican primary for governor.

Will John and Ken matter in the end?

Kobylt credited his listeners with any political punch the show can muster.

"Ken and I are two guys talking in a room," he says.

Associated Press writer Juliet Williams contributed from Sacramento.

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