Ted Lieu is eager to prove he’ll be Hollywood’s ally in Washington. Lieu is in the race to succeed Henry Waxman, the representative for California’s 33rd district and a powerful figure in national politics. But he’ll first have to get by Los Angeles County deputy district attorney Elan Carr.
Waxman’s district spans West Los Angeles and the South Bay, the tony neighborhoods home to many of Hollywood’s wealthiest executives, filmmakers, actors and agents. Lieu, who hails from Torrance, is the first to admit he is not well known in the entertainment business.
Yet the state senator has placed Hollywood at the center of his pitch to potential donors (and voters). Like Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Lieu is a fierce advocate of tax credits for film and television productions. He co-authored a bill eight years ago that instituted a credit and has pushed for their expansion.
Lieu spoke with TheWrap about his efforts to keep entertainment jobs in California, whether he can get anything done in Washington and what he’s learned from Waxman, a forty-year Capitol Hill veteran who he describes as a “living legend.”
How important is Hollywood to this race?
It’s very important. The entertainment industry is one of the areas where we have a competitive advantage over other nations. You are not easily going to replicate the entertainment industry in Cambodia or North Dakota. However, some other states are taking jobs from California.
Several years ago I was co-author of existing film and TV tax credits. We had one of the bigger ones, and through the process, opponents made it smaller. This year I’m hoping we can expand film and TV credits to be bigger and longer.
If tax credits are such a no-brainer, why do so many people oppose them?
When the original law went through, it almost died. A lot of Northern California legislators did not want to vote for it. I had to go and fight [along] with other Southern California legislators to explain it is not just a Southern California issue. It’s a California issue.
The Otis College of Arts and Design has been doing this report on the creative economy in Southern California. Last year it was one in seven jobs. They also did a statewide report showing that across the entire state of California, one in ten jobs are related to the entertainment industry and the creative economy. We were able to explain that to Central Valley and Northern California legislators. In August we’ll know what the Governor is willing to sign.
Are tax credits a state responsibility, or a federal one as well?
Both. California needs to do what it can to keep other states from taking industry jobs. However, other countries are taking jobs, and there’s a federal role for that. One of California’s largest exports for royalties is creative content. The federal government preempts everyone in terms of IP protection.
Which has a more deleterious impact on the entertainment economy, piracy or runaway production?
They are different problems. With the flight of jobs, the solution is not that difficult. It’s simply giving more incentives to keep the jobs here. One way is through film and TV tax incentives. Another is to make business regulations less burdensome. Two years ago we did comprehensive workers compensation reform that has started statewide. Disney was one of the main supporters of that legislation.
Piracy is more of an enforcement issue, making sure we have the tools to enforce the laws on the books and making sure other countries that respect various laws in place.
How do you calculate the financial impact of piracy?
It has a huge impact. I have two kids eight and 11. They are used to watching a lot of free things. The younger generation expects to get a lot of things for free. We can’t have a business model for everything that is free.
Are you well known in Hollywood?
I am less well known in that community than in other parts of the district because I haven’t represented the northern part as [much as] the southern. Hollywood hasn’t been a big part, but it hasn’t been a small part either. I’ve been very thankful in my state legislative career to have gotten support from both the MPAA and various movie studios. Individuals within the industry have contributed. It’s not a large part of the contribution, but I wouldn’t say I have any large part from any community.
What is Henry Waxman’s legacy, and what do his constituents want to see from his successor?
Congressman Waxman has crafted and helped craft numerous landmark laws that have helped hundreds of millions of America, from the Clean Air Act to the Ryan White [Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency] Act to healthcare reform. Voters of this district are aware that they are losing a living legend in Congress; this is a district that believes government is and still can be a force for good. This is not a district where they are railing against government and saying it needs to be shrunk.
What are the issues that are the most important to you in this race?
Job creation has to be at the forefront. I am a Democrat; I want to fund programs that help people. In order to do that, you need to have revenues and you have revenues when you have jobs. I was a larger supporter of enterprise tax reform last year, which incentivized manufacturing and biotech jobs in Califorina. Out of 120 legislators in California, I was one of the 16 that got the highest rating from the California small business owners association.
What will decide the race between now and November?
I believe that the voters of this district are very highly informed, active and engaged. If were able to communicate our message of job creation, tackling climate change comprehensive immigration reform, as well as improving education, voters will respond to that.
How does the wealth of this community and the presence of so many high-profile industry executives affect the race and key issues for you if elected?
The entertainment industry provides a huge numbers of jobs for people who live in the district and all of California. Keeping these jobs in California is one of my main priorities. I have a record of doing that.