By Daniel B. Wood, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
IT'S the Perot-ization of American politics, with a new twist.
"People say to me, `Governor, don't raise my taxes, ... and don't cut my services,' " says Gov. Pete Wilson (R) of California, standing in front of an easel full of pie charts, statistics, and bar graphs.
"So I ask them: You don't want to cut education?" "No!"
"You don't want to cut public safety and let dangerous criminals out of prison?" "Of course not!"
"And you don't want to cut health and welfare?" "Not much."
"Well then, that leaves us only about 9 percent of the whole state general fund from which to make cuts that you might accept ... and that's just not possible when state government is just like the family which has suffered a loss of one-third of its entire income."
Minus the backup dancers, glitzy editing, and driving music, the chief executive of the nation's largest state has stolen a step from MTV. And though he is unabashedly copying the "informercial" popularized by Texas billionaire Ross Perot, Mr. Wilson is taking a far cheaper route to get his message directly to the people - via community-access cable television.
Media-watchers say the idea is the wave of the future. In contrast with the high cost of ads on commercial TV, programs on community-access TV cost just a few thousands dollars for production, and nothing at all for airtime. And the viewers may be just the sort of grass-roots activists that politicians are looking for.
"The people who watch community-access channels tend to be the local movers and shakers, joiners and doers," says Brian Stonehill, who directs the Media Studies Program at Pomona College in Pomona, Calif. "The channels are usually starved for programming and you tend to hit the people who like to be politically involved."
"Politicians are beginning to tap into the willingness of people to be educated to complicated public issues," adds Garth Jowett, a professor of communications at the University of Houston. "You are going to see a burgeoning revolution in the way politicians use technology as a surrogate for showing up at the local mall."
The Wilson video was prompted by the governor's continuing efforts to placate an electorate angry about three years of record-breaking budget shortfalls. Dan Schnur, the governor's press secretary, says Wilson has long been looking for new ways to make his messages heard more widely. …