As Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and top legislative leaders announce a plan to close the state's $26 billion budget holewithout raising taxes, two guys sitting in an LA radio studio are taking credit.
"You've screwed up the last six years, and we're letting the world know that," says Ken Champiou, who, with colleague John Kobylt, host "The John and Ken Show" every afternoon on KFI.
I've blogged about the show before, as the hosts have managed to tap into and mobilize voter anger.
The two men have hosted "Tax Revolt 2009" rallies, but instead of calling them "tea parties", which sounds somewhat civil, John and Ken prefer to shout, "Heads on a stick!!" Their websiteincludes caricatures of various state politicians with, yes, their heads on sticks, though the Governor's head is impaled on "Conan's sword". This led the state's Assembly Speaker to indirectly refer to Kobylt and Champiou as terrorists, but their ratings are flying high.
Back in 2003, they helped lead the recall of Governor Gray Davis (whom they call "Gumby") when he raised taxes to close a massive budget gap after the tech bust. They take credit for bringing down the propositions in a special election last May which would have extended the largest tax hike in state history.
That defeat brought back the "old" Arnold Schwarzenegger, the one originally elected to bring Sacramento spending in line with revenues. John and Ken take some credit for that, too.
"We have a running gag," says Champiou, "that there's a whole bunch of Schwarzeneggers in a closet like 'Terminator", and they just power one up to fit the message of this week, this month, this day!"
"I don't get him," Kobylt says of the Governor. "The only thing I think that goes on in his head is he wants to be loved...he cannot handle criticism, unpopularity, people complaining."
Some call John and Ken the unofficial governors of California. Even Schwarzenegger joked about who's in charge in an interview with the Los Angeles Times editorial board. "He said, 'Who's' running the state here, the Governor or John and Ken?'" Champiou laughs. "Well, if you have to ask the question, I guess you're not," Kobylt responds.
I'll have more with the two during a special report on California CNBC is airing tonight at 9p ET, 6p here on the west coast.
It's unlikely the new budget deal will do much to quiet John and Ken, even though they've succeeded in putting enough pressure on politicians to prevent new taxes. "We hope to keep creating chaos," says Kobylt. "There's long term problems that are going to bankrupt and sink California eventually." In particular, he points to tens of billions of dollars needed to fund pensions for the current force of public employees. Kobylt and Champiou are no friends to the teachers union and other labor groups which the hosts say have gotten public employees much cushier deals than employees in the private sector.
And there's new legislation to push. John and Ken say the politicians in Sacramento have lost all credibility, and so they're supporting a proposed amendment to the state constitution which would create a part-time legislature that meets only three months a year. "We hate them," says Champiou. "They're liars."
Update:Governor Schwarzenegger's office points out that John and Ken aren't batting 1,000. The two supported all of the Governor's 2005 propositions meant to reform the state's finances. All of the propositions lost.
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