A Lobbyist Boldly Goes … to the Hill
Dan Jensen has embarked on a highly unusual voyage for a Washington lobbyist. He’s trying to convince Congress to keep the television series “Star Trek: Enterprise” from reaching the final frontier in TV land: cancellation.
Jensen, a 31-year-old who gets paid to lobby on behalf of clients for the firm Alcalde & Fay, has sacrificed his lunch hours and his spare time to push a pet project for which he will receive no compensation.
“About two weeks ago I got involved,” said Jensen, a longtime “Star Trek” fan. He told organizers of SaveEnterprise.com and TrekUnited.com that as a lobbyist, he could help gin up support among Members.
“Dan has been doing a great job,” said Tim Brazeal, a Tennessean who leads the campaign.
Jensen drafted a letter and began circulating it to Congressional offices. In the meantime, he urged his fellow “Star Trek” fans to beam e-mails and faxes to the offices of their local Members of Congress.
“I received over 500 e-mails right off the bat from fans,” said Jensen, who admits to being a little overwhelmed — but buoyed — by the grass-roots response.
“I kind of bit off more than I can chew when I started all this,” he said. But the “fans really look at the show as something that’s inspiring. With all the garbage and reality shows, it’s been one of those shows that expresses values of freedom and values of democracy triumphing over all, which is why you get such a backlash about canceling it.”
So far, Jensen and the Trek effort have found one supporter: Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), who has signed a letter addressed to CBS chief Leslie Moonves, who also oversees UPN, the network that airs “Star Trek: Enterprise.”
Too bad for Jensen that former Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio), who repeated the “Star Trek” mantra “Beam me up” on countless occasions from the House floor, is currently residing in federal prison.
An in-house lobbyist for Viacom, which owns CBS and UPN, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The one-page letter, for which Jensen is looking for more co-signers, says, “We are aware of the competitive nature of broadcast television and understand the need for networks to balance quality entertainment with revenue-generating programming. However, the decision to end a television show that is among the very few that exemplify the values of freedom and showcase the best qualities of humanity is both saddening and sets an alarming precedent for future programming.”
In an interview, Jensen added: “It’s something that’s kind of a break from the serious nature that’s going on. We’re not asking Members to write legislation or make political statements about any of the networks.”
But not everyone has a sense of humor about the effort.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Jim Davis (D-Fla.) said her boss has no plans to sign the letter. “He doesn’t think it’s appropriate, outside of indecency, for Congress to get involved in telling studios what programming they should and should not run,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner.
She added that Davis’ office has received at least one constituent letter and a phone call from Jensen, but she said “we haven’t had a ground swell of calls.”
Jensen said he’s applying the usual tools of a lobbyist to carry out his pro bono campaign. After getting a constituent to call a Member’s office, Jensen makes a follow-up call in which he says, “We have this letter going around. Hopefully you’ve been receiving letters from your constituents.” Jensen added, “Everybody always laughs at first. Most of them just kind of laugh it off, [saying], ‘It’s a cute idea, but no thanks.’”
The fans’ lobbying effort might not hold much sway over the network that airs “Star Trek.”
“We very much appreciate the fans’ enthusiasm and support of the show, but the decision to cancel the series is final,” said Joanna Massey, a UPN spokeswoman.
But Jensen said the fans-turned-lobbyists have gained a new appreciation for the legislative process.
“A lot of them think they don’t have the power to be heard and have been cynical about their Members of Congress,” Jensen explained. “When they hear that their Members of Congress are responding to this, they are really surprised.”
The SaveEnterprise and TrekUnited campaign, which is run by volunteer Brazeal, has raised more than $3.1 million to save the TV show, $3 million of which came from a venture-capital group that helped fund a private space flight.
Brazeal said he and Jensen have discussed a possible Capitol Hill rally. “We’re everywhere,” Brazeal said of his fellow Trek fans. “Al Gore is a ‘Star Trek’ fan. ‘Star Trek’ is not just a television show — it’s made a major impact on people’s lives, the careers they choose.”
Another participant in the lobbying campaign, Candice McCallie of Houston, said she has sent e-mail messages to Reps. John Culberson (R-Texas) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).
McCallie, who is also doing volunteer PR for SaveEnterprise, calls the drive to cancel the show “a crime.” “I’ve never gotten really actively involved in anything,” she said. “I’ve never been to a [‘Star Trek’] convention. But ‘Enterprise’ is my favorite.”
Jensen has been to a convention. But unlike a lot of other fans, he said, he was dressed in a sweat shirt and jeans, not in a “Star Trek” costume.
“The fa.ns are just so nice,” he said. “You have the nerd and the geek element, but you have families. They wanted to show we’re not just a bunch of nerds sitting in a corner wearing a uniform.”