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Politics

Newsletter: California’s live TV coverage of the Legislature is gone. Will anyone turn it back on?

Essential Politics
Essential Politics
(Los Angeles Times)

For 28 years, it was easy to find live television coverage of the California Legislature on cable systems across the state. The gavel-to-gavel broadcasting ensured that those who were interested could hold legislators accountable for their votes in Sacramento.

But that won’t be the case when the Legislature reconvenes four weeks from today. The California Channel, the venerable broadcasting organization launched in 1991, went dark on Oct. 16 after its cable television patrons decided to cut the funding and pull the plug.

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“Think about it nationally: If C-SPAN went away, people would lose their minds,” said Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco).

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LIVE TV OR LIVESTREAM OF CALIFORNIA’S CAPITOL?

The California Channel was a mom-and-pop operation in comparison to C-SPAN. Its broadcast day was less than eight hours long until additional taped programs paved the way for an around-the-clock schedule in 2009. Even then, the effect was measured more in reach — 136 cable systems at last measurement — than actual ratings.

(Full disclosure: I served as moderator of a 2014 gubernatorial debate jointly produced by the Los Angeles Times, KQED and the Cal Channel.)

Times columnist George Skelton wrote in September that the Cal Channel’s annual budget was $1.2 million. Cable industry officials insist it was not money but relevance that led to their decision. The Legislature is now required to post recordings of all proceedings online within 24 hours, and there is some legislative-controlled livestreaming of floor debates in the state Senate and Assembly.

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“The coverage provided by the Cal Channel became duplicative,” said Carolyn McIntyre, president of the California Cable & Telecommunications Assn.

Mullin and legislative officials have been studying the options for bringing legislative proceedings back to television screens instead of just relying on internet service. One hurdle, he admitted, is perception: They don’t want to be seen as being in charge of “state-run television,” as Mullin called it. The other dilemma is getting the signal to each cable provider, a process complicated by the fact that Cal Channel’s technical infrastructure has already been dismantled and in some cases donated to others.

“Itʼs more complicated than anyone realized,” he said last week.

The early effort will rely on streaming video sent by the Legislature to PEG (public, educational and government) access channels across the state. What happens after that depends on whether others — journalists and nonprofits alike — get involved. “I hope someone steps in and sees the public value in this,” said Mullin.

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NATIONAL ROUNDUP

-- The House Judiciary Committee may draft articles of impeachment against President Trump by the end of this week, the panel’s chairman said Sunday.

-- Democrats are unified on impeachment, and the only significant point of contention is how expansive of a case to make.

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-- Sen. Kamala Harris may not have run a perfect presidential campaign, but her exit from the race means more than adequate time to politically recover for consideration as vice president or reelection in 2022.

-- Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., released new details on Friday about his confidential work with McKinsey & Co. a decade ago, while insisting the company should allow him to divulge even more.

-- “This isn’t a line that we chose to cross. The line crossed us,” said Wisconsin businessman Bill Penzey of his decision to mix politics with his parsley and paprika — and support the impeachment of Trump.

-- Expanded paid parental leave in exchange for a national “space force”? That could be the deal that’s on the table in Washington.

-- A voting site in a majority-black Georgia community is reopened after a grass-roots fight.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

-- Faced with an unprecedented string of wildfires across California, overtime costs for firefighters have surged by 65% in the last decade, pushing annual wages to nearly $5 billion, according to a Times analysis of state payroll records.

-- As the end of his first year in office nears, Gov. Gavin Newsom has found himself on the wrong side of one of the most formidable factions of organized labor at the state Capitol — the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California — in a fight that could threaten his agenda.

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-- A new inspector general at Caltrans has found millions of dollars in misspending on transportation improvement projects in the last year as the state has seen its coffers swell from increases to California’s gas taxes and vehicle fees.

-- California’s campaign watchdog agency has suspended a long-standing policy banning its members from contributing to federal candidates after one commissioner donated to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid.

-- Three members of the Los Angeles City Council called for full taxpayer financing of city election campaigns, resurrecting an idea that was proposed nearly three years ago but went nowhere.

-- An epidemic of car burglaries in San Francisco over the last few years has led one Democratic lawmaker to propose plugging a loophole in state law that allows some break-ins to go unpunished, but the Legislature has balked at prosecutors’ requests to make obtaining convictions easier.

LOGISTICS

Essential Politics is written by Sacramento bureau chief John Myers on Mondays and Washington bureau chief David Lauter on Fridays.

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