DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Raising the nation’s public policy IQ…Adding the National Initiative to Democracy’s Toolbox.
L.A. Times, April 2, 1976

THE DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Edwin Koupal, who with his wife founded the People’s Lobby, died of cancer Monday at the age of 48. Here, Tom Quinn, chairman of the California Air Resources Board and a key aide to Gov. Brown, assesses Koupal’s stormy career.

                                                                     By TOM QUINN

If Ed Koupal had stayed in the used-car business, he would have run Cal Worthington out of town. But Ed turned his attention in another direction. He became California’s biggest and most successful purveyor of direct democracy.

Ed took the initiative process that Gov. Hiram Johnson gave this state in 1911 and turned it into a fighting art form. More than any other individual, Koupal deserved credit for putting the Political Reform Initiative, Proposition 9, on the 1974 ballot. The Nuclear Safety Initiative, which will be voted on this June, is also Ed’s work.

Koupal made lots of enemies — oil companies, electrical utilities and probably most politicians — because he was usually bullheaded, abrasive, mean and loud-mouthed.

But he was damn effective, and that’s what he cared about.

He could also be a good friend. The men and women who worked with him at the People’s Lobby and those of us in government who had the pleasure, and sometimes pain, of dealing with him gained an enormous respect for Ed.

For example, after helping write Proposition 9, he planned the petition circulation drive to qualify it for a spot on the ballot. He recruited and organized the volun­teers, then personally gathered signatures. During the campaign, Ed often spent his daylight hours circulating petitions and devoted his evenings to fund-raising and organ­izing.

When Proposition 9 qualified for the ballot, Ed took over effective management of the campaign. It bothered him that Common Cause, rather than the People’s Lobby, was usually given credit for the initiative, but he pushed his personal irritation aside and went out and gathered endorsements and finally votes.

Koupal was too young, too strong and too alive to die. Fortunately, he left something of himself behind: the People’s Lobby, which, I suspect, will continue to thrive. Many of his critics used to take some comfort from the belief that Ed was the lobby, that his organization had no independent existence. But that myth would have faded quickly if Ed’s political opponents had visited the lobby’s busy headquarters on Olympic Blvd. in Los Angeles.

The first time I dropped by, Ed’s wife Joyce, gave me the grand tour. Downstairs: mail room, offices, switch­board and kitchen. Upstairs: living quarters for the Koupals, their family and anybody else who needed a place to sleep while working on lobby business. Outside in the old garage: the People’s Lobby press.

One night some time later, I visited again and found Ed, Joyce and a few others engaged in a discussion of nuclear power with consumer activist Ralph Nader, who was one of Ed’s close friends. It was getting late, and Nader had a plane to catch. Since I had a car with seat belts, I was drafted as chauffeur. Ed and Joyce came along for the ride, and after Nader caught his plane we stopped at a restaurant in the Marina for a late night snack.

After an hour or two, I suggested it might be time to head for home. Reluctantly, Ed agreed, though it was clear he would rather have talked all night. Koupal, you see, didn’t have time for sleep. He was obsessed with one goal: improving government. I sometimes disagreed with the way he charged after that objective, but I never had any doubt about his sincerity or ability.

Neither did Nader, who asked Ed to put together the Western Bloc, a group formed to sponsor initiative campaigns against nuclear power in the Western states.

Ed Koupal may not have always been right, but he was consistently honest and effective. He touched and probably improved the lives of millions of Californians who have nev­er heard of him.

We should all be grateful that he decided to sell initiatives instead of used cars.

L.A. Times, 4/2/76

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