On Tuesday morning, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will tape an hour-long special edition of Voz y Voto, a Spanish-language political affairs program on Univision–a television network headed by one of the governor’s largest contributors. Schwarzenegger will answer questions unscripted from the audience, without sharing the stage with Democratic representatives of the groups opposing his initiatives on the special election ballot.
The Univision appearance comes a day after a similar town-hall style event aired on Bay Area television station KTVU. But that Schwarzenegger’s appearance was preceded by Senate leader Don Perata and California Nurses Association President Rose Ann DeMoro.
“Anytime you have a public debate program such as Voz y Voto is, both sides of the argument need to be presented,” said Roger Salazar, a consultant for anti-Schwarzenegger Alliance for a Better California, who is working on Latino media. “That has to be the trademark of a program like Voz y Voto.”
Univision’s chairman and CEO A. Jerrold Perenchio, has been a major Schwarzenegger donor. Perenchio donated $1.5 million to Schwarzenegger’s campaign earlier this month, matching a contribution he made earlier this year to help qualify the governor’s agenda for the ballot.
“One would hope that they would offer time to the other side on this,” said Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a campaign watchdog group.
“When you are giving free time,” adds Stern. “It is always better to give both sides.”
But because Schwarzenegger is not a candidate on this fall’s special election ballot, federal requirements for equal airtime do not apply.
This will not be the first time that Voz y Voto will air an hour-long show with a single guest. In 2003, the week before the recall then-Gov. Gray Davis did a similar solo town-hall style event. And in 2001, Davis and Mexican President
Vicente Fox appeared together for an hour.
While Univision representatives say dedicating the hour to the governor is strictly a news decision, some Democrats say there is a connection between the governor’s appearance and Perenchio’s donations
“That’s what $3 million buys you,” said Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for the Alliance for a Better California. “It is another clear indication of favors going back in forth between the governor and his contributor.”
The governor’s campaign is currently negotiating with stations across the state to coordinate other similar governor-only town hall television events, with another one scheduled to air this Friday in Fresno. Details on the format of that event were unclear.
“This fits into the governor’s pattern of trying to avoid any sort of meaningful debate or dialogue with anyone other than himself,” retorts Salazar, who himself recently appeared on Voz y Voto to debate gubernatorial spokesman Jesus Arredondo on the merits of Proposition 74, the governor’s teacher tenure initiative.
Voz y Voto, which, according to Univision, is the only Spanish-language political affairs program in the state, usually is a half-hour debate-style show. But for Schwarzenegger the program has been extended to an hour, with the governor taking questions from an unscreened audience. He will answer in English, with his responses subtitled when the show airs.
Schwarzenegger’s hour-long appearance highlights his close relationship with Univision chairman Perenchio. Already this month, Schwarzenegger’s campaign has booked more than $2.3 million in Spanish-language ads on Univision, according to industry sources.
The ad buy, which is the biggest political purchase in Spanish-language television history, highlights that Latinos are being targeted as “gettable voters,” according to one Republican consultant, for the special election. That makes the Voz y Voto appearance all the more valuable and controversial.
“It carries the mantle of being a TV show, not a paid advertisement,” said Harley Shaiken, a UC Berkeley professor and chair of the Center for Latin American Studies. “The moment it is paid, people turn it off. Here it has the imprimatur of Univision but the content of the governor. That is an effective combination.”