From Hollywood to Sacramento

Lights: Here in the state of swimming pools and movie stars, there’s always been a powerful and symbiotic connection between politics and the entertainment industry.

The loudest critics of President George Bush’s threatened invasion of Iraq are the luminaries from Hollywood and academia who signed the Not In Our Name pledge (, which ran in major newspapers last week and sparked a massive rally in New York’s Central Park during the weekend.

Yet it’s the more self-serving of these Hollywood-Sacramento connections that catch Bites’ eye. The most successful of these relationships seems to follow a tried-and-true pattern of celebrities supporting politicians or their causes, politicians turning around and supporting the entertainment industry, and then celebrities who play the game well have a chance to enter politics.

Ronald Reagan may have blazed this trail when, as president of the Screen Actors Guild during the Red Scare, he supported the House Un-American Activities Committee on its hunt for Communists in Hollywood, for which conservative political circles eventually elevated him to governor and then president.

Both Democrat Rob Reiner and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger seem eager to follow this path, although both have chosen the safer modern vehicles of pushing initiatives that help kids, rather than anachronistic Red baiting, to transform themselves from actor-directors to gubernatorial candidates in 2006.

There have been many lesser examples in the last year, including singers Don Henley and Sheryl Crow helping Senator Kevin Murray try to strengthen their hand against record companies, Erin Brockovich coming into town to support toxic-mold legislation, and Secretary of State Bill Jones climbing into the ring with World Wrestling Entertainment stars Kane and Bubba Ray Dudley at Arco Arena during the weekend to urge fans to vote in the November 5 election.

In each case, politicians benefit from the spotlight and positive associations with popular celebrities, the stars get to look like more than just pretty faces, and those who prove adept at the game can get some power to go with their prestige.

Camera: Ah, but there are pitfalls in this process, times when its shamelessness seems, well, shameless. Such was the case last week when Schwarzenegger made the rounds while pushing his Proposition 49 measure to expand after-school programs (, speaking of shameless).

He posed for mutually beneficial photo ops with Sacramento Sheriff Lou Blanas and many other sheriffs up and down California, as well as all their attendant deputies, all in uniform. And that’s where the problems start.

You see, Government Code Section 3206 makes it crystal clear that “no officer or employee of a local agency shall participate in political activities of any kind while in uniform.”

Campaign and department officials try to wiggle around the violation by saying the deputies were off-duty, and supporting after-school programs not political issues, but neither seems to address the code’s unambiguous language.

But is anyone going to take on poor kids, the cops and the Terminator over this? Yeah, right.

Action: And sometimes, the two worlds are blurred into one, as they were on TV network WB’s Gilmore Girls the week before last, when Senator Barbara Boxer and our own Congressman Doug Ose, played themselves in short cameos.

At a political reception during the episode, Boxer passed an overly chatty constituent off to Ose, who suddenly excused himself to take a leak. For the average viewer, it may have been refreshing to see Boxer and Ose on The WB instead of C-SPAN. But political junkies surely got another chuckle because Ose may challenge Boxer in 2004.

How did Ose land the role? Ose spokesman Steve Rice says he hears the offer first went to actor-turned-Senator Fred Thompson, and then a handful of other lawmakers when he couldn’t make it. Finally, Ose accepted the invite.

“Doug’s daughters are huge fans of the show,” Rice says, “so this gave him a chance to bring them down to the set and meet the cast.” WB flack Pam Morrison says the show’s producer wanted to use actual pols “to give it some realism.”