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Specter on the Left Coast

Long before Hollywood discovered its political voice, medicine and medical research were the Industry’s causes of choice. Locally, you wouldn’t be far wrong if you called Cedars-Sinai the hospital that millions of movie tickets built.

In recent years, the only thing that’s bigger box office on the Hollywood fundraising circuit than a hot Democratic candidate is stem cell research, which is why the entertainment industry’s unlikely man of the hour is the 79-year-old senior U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, the newest member of his chamber’s Democratic caucus.

Now Janet and Jerry Zucker’s long-planned May 28 fundraising luncheon for Specter has turned into such a hot ticket that they may move the event to the Beverly Hilton’s main ballroom. Actually, the Zuckers first scheduled the event when Specter still was a Republican. The couple’s daughter suffers from juvenile diabetes, one of the many ills for which treatments derived from stem cells may one day provide a cure. Thus, they’ve become major advocates for legalizing and funding this promising new science.

Though he was first elected to the Senate as a GOP candidate back in 1980, Specter has long been known for his independence and, despite the Republicans’ opposition to most forms of stem cell research, he has been one of the field’s strongest congressional champions.

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The Zuckers, who are co-hosting the event with Michele and Rob Reiner, first conceived their lunch for him as a way of saying thank you and hoped to draw a relatively modest -- by Hollywood standards, anyway -- crowd of like-minded entertainment industry figures active in the stem cell cause.

Then came Specter’s surprising decision last month to leave the Republican Party to cross the aisle and join the Democrats. If, as now seems likely, comedian Al Franken prevails in the seemingly never-ending wrangle over one of Minnesota’s Senate seats, that will give the Dems the 60 votes they need to block a GOP filibuster.

That’s no small matter with President Barack Obama soon to name a Supreme Court nominee for Senate confirmation (Specter just happens to be a member of the Judiciary Committee) and a major battle over healthcare looming.

Specter “is coming to town as a celebrity now,” said Chad Griffin, who is helping the Zuckers arrange the event. The couple, by the way, are deeply involved with their next film, a dramatic bio of those famous thorns in the Bush administration’s side, Valerie Plame and Ambassador Joe Wilson -- starring this year’s Oscar winner Sean Penn.

The incongruities hardly stop there: Specter may be the only Democrat ever feted by Hollywood with a 100% voting record from the Chamber of Commerce and an 86% score from the National Assn. of Manufacturers. You can’t make this stuff up.

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Reiner combats two propositions

Speaking of Rob Reiner, before he can get too deeply involved in the Specter event, he’ll have to get past next week’s special statewide election, where he’s working to defeat two budget-related propositions he believes will deal blows to funding for children’s services and healthcare.

Reiner, you may recall, lead the Proposition 10 initiative campaign to fund the programs and now is opposing Propositions 1D and 1E because they would divert funds away from kids’ causes and into covering part of the state’s budget shortfall. The measures were put on the ballot to ratify a deal struck between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature after a months-long standoff over the state budget.

This week, Reiner led a demonstration outside the governor’s office, and he’s also recorded a radio spot you’ll be hearing a lot of between now and election day.

“Our kids don’t know it, but on Tuesday, the state’s budget mess will put them at risk,” Reiner says in the ad.

“These are some of the worst budget cuts in California history. 1D and 1E won’t balance the budget . . . California teachers are against this. Nurses are against it. It’s a bad budget deal. It protects the special interests and hurts kids.”

Outside Schwarzenegger’s downtown L.A. office this week, Reiner amplified that same message. “Voting no on Prop. 1D is common sense,” he said. “Hurting kids is wrong, and cutting programs that save taxpayer dollars is wrong.”

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tina.daunt@latimes.com


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