Dispatches > The Buzz Sidebar

A Hollywood production

Issue: "Looking for votes," March 11, 2006

In 1998, California voters passed Proposition 10, which laid a tax of 50 cents a pack on cigarettes. Since then the taxes from this initiative have contributed about $4 billion to the coffers of a state commission and 59 county commissions that have as their mission "promoting, supporting, and improving the early development of children from the prenatal stage to five years of age."

After actor/director Rob Reiner led the campaign for Prop 10 eight years ago, then-Gov. Gray Davis made him the state commission's first and thus far only chairman. His appointment expired in 2003, but Arnold Schwarzenegger allowed him to remain in the post, neither reappointing him nor appointing a new chairman over the free-spending state board.

Mr. Reiner has now adopted the cause of "preschool for all" and is backing Proposition 82, which would establish a three-day-a-week state preschool program for every Golden State child, paid for by a $2.4 billion a year tax hike. Coincidentally-or not-Mr. Reiner's state commission spent $23 million on television and radio ads praising preschool in late 2005 and early 2006, just as Prop 82 forces were collecting the roughly 600,000 signatures needed to qualify the ballot measure.

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Mr. Reiner claims the ad campaign had no relation to his new proposition; it is illegal to spend taxes in support of political campaigns. Many people do not believe him and have called for audits and for his ouster from public office. Mr. Reiner has taken a "leave of absence," but if Gov. Schwarzenegger doesn't fire his Hollywood colleague by appointing a new chair, it will look like the governor favors Prop 82 and is protecting a high-profile liberal from accountability for gross mismanagement and politicization of taxpayer funds.

No matter what the governor does or how long Mr. Reiner lasts in the job, the focus is now on the danger of vanity politics and celebrity appointments, as well as on the foolishness of giving a troubled education bureaucracy even more money. Mr. Reiner's ego and the reckless spending of millions on television ads may have alerted voters to the danger of policy by Hollywood whim.

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