A Skybox Reality -- No Cash, No Arnold
It was a stakeout, and Pat Parker, an eagle-eyed
grandmother from Orange, missed nothing.
She leaned over the railing in the halls of Staples Center
during a Laker game, zeroing in on everything that moved.
Her husband, Dave, took up another position 50 yards away,
covering the southern flank.
Sooner or later, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would come by,
trolling the skyboxes for cash. The Parkers didn't have the
required $10,000 minimum donation, but they had a story,
and they were determined to ambush the governor and tell it
Fat chance, I thought.
Schwarzenegger would have an entourage and the Parkers
wouldn't get within 10 feet of him. Sure, Dave voted for
Arnold, and Pat voted Republican too â€" for
Sen. Tom McClintock.
But they didn't have a fat check.
"People like the Parkers don't have access because they
don't have $10,000 to pay for face-time with the governor,"
said Jamie Court. It was Court, of the Foundation for
Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, who got the Parkers into a
nearby skybox so they could make a run at the governor.
"He did make promises not to let special interests get in
the way," said the bespectacled Pat, "and we're here to
remind him of that."
Specifically, the Parkers had a beef about health care, and
they've been none too pleased to see the governor pocketing
big donations from the industry they want him to clamp down
Dave, 64, got laid off two years ago from his job in
electronics sales, and went on COBRA, the government
program that extends medical coverage for those who lose
But it ain't cheap.
The Parkers paid $663 a month to Blue Cross, and then
without explanation, the monthly premium was hiked to
The more the Parkers looked into it, the higher their blood
pressure soared. WellPoint Health Networks Inc., which owns
Blue Cross, reported that profits had skyrocketed while
they were gouging the Parkers.
Then they found out that a Blue Cross exec had given
$21,200, the maximum allowable donation, to Schwarzenegger,
as did several other health-care poobahs. Money in hand,
would the governor be inclined to play hardball with
The Parkers also learned that while they struggle to make
their monthly premium, WellPoint CEO Leonard Schaeffer
would be worth as much as $350 million in a proposed
Pat and Dave sat down and composed a "Dear Governor" letter
to hand-deliver during the Laker game.
"The health-care industry is sticking it to everybody and
it must be regulated," they wrote. "The industry preys on
those that are especially weak."
Then they laid on the guilt.
"Dave voted for you because you are someone who values good
So why not regulate health-care premiums and force
companies to justify increases, as 26 other states do?
Why not standardize hospital fees, like the state of
Why not buy prescription drugs in bulk to keep costs down,
In their three-page letter, the Parkers told Schwarzenegger
they believed in him and were counting on him to do the
right thing, even if it might offend certain political
donors, whom they listed:
"Blue Cross executive vice president Dennis Weinberg
($21,200), PacifiCare ($31,200), Lawrence Higby CEO of
Apria Healthcare Group ($31,200), Baxter Health Care
($21,200), Allergan ($20,000), and Johnson & Johnson
And now back to the stakeout.
Jamie Court had a list of five skyboxes Schwarzenegger was
expected to visit. High rollers were invited to pony up a
minimum of $10,000 to shake hands with Big Boy, all the way
up to the maximum $21,200.
With a dozen or so people in each box representing various
interests, Schwarzenegger â€" isn't he the guy
who said he didn't need anybody's money? â€"
stood to clear as much as $1 million.
Gray Davis would be proud.
Just before halftime, a cluster of security guards and
advance men appeared. And suddenly, there was Gov.
Schwarzenegger, who ducked into a skybox.
Pat and Dave hurried over and stationed themselves outside
the box, even as two or three security guards gave them a
wary eye. The ruse was that Pat wanted an autograph and
Dave wanted to take a picture.
No autographs, guards told Pat.
They had no idea who they were dealing with.
When Schwarzenegger emerged, tightly surrounded by ushers,
guards and henchmen, they made a mad dash for a nearby
Pat was not intimidated. As she darted into the phalanx in
white pearls and a red holiday sweater, I feared for her.
But she was nimble, quick and powerful, looking more like
Shaq than a mother of five and grandmother of 11.
Pat was briefly knocked sideways in the mosh pit, and I
thought she might go down. But she had an important message
to deliver and failure was not an option, as Arnold often
says. She bulled ahead, inching closer to Schwarzenegger
with the letter extended.
Finally, she was within reach. But as she handed the letter
to the Gov, an aide whisked it away.
"I don't think they expected an old lady to move that
fast," Pat said before camping out at the next skybox for
another shot at the governor.
The guards wanted no part of her by then. One of the
governor's advance men took another copy of the letter and
promised to deliver it to Schwarzenegger.
One week later, Pat is still waiting for his call.
Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.
See the article on Los Angeles Times website