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— One of the most prominent cultural institutions of that well-heeled bastion known as La Jolla is offering free tickets to attract left-of-center patrons to a pair of plays about liberal politics. "Enjoy the benefits of being an activist!" begins an e-mail message from the La Jolla Playhouse recently sent out to the e-mail list of Activist San Diego, a group whose members sponsor demonstrations against the war in Iraq. Some might even be described as more than a little to the left of prospective Democratic nominee John Kerry. "As a politically active San Diegan, we feel you would be especially interested in these two important plays. We are pleased to provide you with a complimentary ticket to attend either of them." The free tickets -- worth between $30 and $50, depending on night and seat location -- can be booked by calling the box office and providing a special code. "Each of the plays in David Edgar's epic two-play cycle is a complete theatrical event unto itself. Together they present a fascinating look at contemporary politics," the e-mail says. "In Daughters of the Revolution, a community college dean with a radical past comes to terms with the legacy of the political ideals." The plays have drawn mixed reviews. (Opined the L.A. Times, Continental Divide has "the chilly academic air of a political science thesis.") A spokeswoman for the theater denies that the house is being papered. But a member of the playhouse's marketing department said that she wasn't eager to have news of the freebies get into the paper, lest wealthy, full-paying season-ticket holders become upset. Those who take the freebies will also be able to participate in a series of after-show polemical discussions led by stars of San Diego State­run public broadcaster KPBS-FM, such as Tom Fudge and Dirk Sutro.

Photo finish Last week's earthquake caught the San Diego City Council in the midst of an afternoon meeting about redevelopment. One citizen who later watched the historic incident on video described it. "The Council goes into RAPID action at that moment, with most heading for the exits. Donna Frye takes the early lead, but Jim Madaffer (bent over at the waist) zooms by her in a move reminiscent of LaDainian Tomlinson burrowing for a first down. He never touches her, but his speed is impressive. Charles Lewis wins the cool-under-fire award for just leaning back and watching."... Ex­Democratic state senator Steve Peace, who authored the legislation that took Lindbergh Field away from the port commission and set up a new airport authority, is said to be closely connected with a $60,000, six-month consulting deal the authority recently granted to Cornerstone Strategies, run by his ex­chief of staff, lobbyist Arturo Castanares. An airport-authority spokeswoman confirmed that Peace has been involved in the work, which the contract says provides "assistance in the development of message points," "assistance with identifying issues that could affect public relations strategy," and gives "input based on research, conversations, experience."

Join Congress, see the world Democratic congresswoman Susan Davis's recently filed 2003 personal financial disclosure shows she owned between $15,000 and $50,000 worth of stock in Wal-Mart, controversial among some for its nonunion employment policies and foreign outsourcing. Davis also reported getting free travel, meals, and lodging from six groups, including the American Israel Foundation (with a "family member" for an August trip to Tel Aviv); the California Council for International Trade; the Faith and Politics Institute (an appearance in Selma, Alabama); the Business Roundtable; the New Democrat Network; and the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands. Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, thanks to the American Gas Association. South Bay Democrat Bob Filner flew out to Berkeley, paid for by the University of California's Center for Latin American Studies. The National Education Association picked up a trip for him to New Orleans. The richest member of the local delegation, Republican Darrell Issa, also got his share of free travel. The ex­car-alarm magnate spent a couple of days in Las Vegas in January courtesy of the Consumer Electronics Association. In August, the congressman of Lebanese descent jetted off to the real Luxor on a ticket paid for by Egypt's International Economic Forum. The Swiss Foundation for World Affairs picked up the tab for a November jaunt to Geneva, and the Public Governance Institute covered the cost of Issa's two-day December stay in Rancho Mirage. East County congressman Duncan Hunter didn't report any free travel but reported collecting an insurance settlement worth between $500,000 and $1 million for the Alpine house he lost during last fall's backcountry fires.

-- Matt Potter

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