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Losing to Gov.'s Veto, Backers of KOCE-TV Vow to Fight On

Times Staff Writer

Operators of Orange County’s public television station vowed Monday to continue their fight to keep KOCE out of the hands of a religious broadcaster, after the governor’s weekend veto of a bill crafted to keep PBS programming on the channel.

That legislation would have allowed the sale of KOCE to a foundation that bears its name, despite Daystar Television Network’s being the highest bidder. A state court barred the 2004 sale to the foundation because it did not offer the most money for the station.

A state appeals court upheld the lower court ruling, calling the sale “the rankest form of favoritism,” and ordered the Coast Community College District, which still owns the station, to re-bid it or not sell it at all.

Mel Rogers, KOCE general manager, said the station would continue trying to stave off Daystar and keep KOCE a public television station.

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“We’ll do everything we have to do to try and retain the license,” Rogers said. “It should never be undone, and we’re going to do all we can to prevent that from happening.”

State law requires community college districts to sell public property to the highest bidder, but the bill would have created an exemption that would have allowed such districts to consider factors other than who was offering the most money.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto marks the latest turn in a long-running battle over the control of KOCE.

In the Legislature, that battle pitted Orange County’s Democrats and moderate Republicans, who thought the station’s public value should help determine its fate, against more conservative Republicans who believed the religious broadcaster’s 1st Amendment rights were violated and that public assets should be sold to the highest bidder.

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The bill was heavily lobbied by both sides. Daystar hired Orange County GOP Chairman Scott Baugh as a lobbyist, and the bill’s champion, Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Anaheim) met with the staff of Maria Shriver, the governor’s wife, in hopes of persuading the governor to sign it.

The legislation didn’t receive any Republican votes, even from legislators who had initially signaled they would support it.

In vetoing the bill, Schwarzenegger was going against some of his biggest supporters and financial donors. He said he was concerned that the bill would “sidestep the protections afforded under current law to ensure that the public’s interests are served in the sale of public property.”

Walt Howald, president of Coast Community’s Board of Trustees, said the board had not decided its next strategy.

Howald and others said that language making the bill apply only in Orange County appeared to have doomed it.

“The bill the governor vetoed was not what I voted in favor of pursuing in our district,” Howald said. “I didn’t think that was right. The intent wasn’t to make it apply just to KOCE.”

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christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

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