L.A. Times March 30, 1976


BY AL MARTINEZ  Times Staff Writer

Edwin Koupal, whose People’s Lobby gave voice to the voiceless through the initiative process, died Monday. He was 48.

Death came quietly in a hospital bed to the big and determined political acti­vist, who had been described as “one of God’s angry men.”

Koupal had been suffering from can­cer, and on Sunday night decided he wanted no further oxygen or intravenous treatment.

With him at the time was his wife of 27 years, Joyce, and a friend, Faith Keating.

“He told us not to cry,” Ms. Keating said. “He said he was satisfied with what he had done and what he had stood for. We played Benny Goodman tapes and drank wine.

“He didn’t even die like anyone else.”

Koupal — ex-bartender, ex-used car salesman and ex-chicken rancher founded People’s Lobby in 1968 with his wife, and together they turned the initiative process into a grassroots force that California had never seen before.

They sent an army of mostly young volunteers into the field in 1972 to gather 339,000 signatures and qualify the Clean Environment Act for the ballot.

Koupal hailed it as “the first successful grass-roots initiative campaign in history” — a campaign devoid of special interest money.

The issue, Proposition 9, went down to defeat, but it clearly established the lobby as a force to be reckoned with.

Two years later-and now boasting 20,000 members — the Koupal organization joined with Common Cause to qual­ify a political reform initiative for the bal­lot, and it won.

In the months before his death, Koupal was pursuing yet another goal — establishment of a national safe energy initiative campaign.

He and his wife had hammered out the platform of an organization called Western Bloc and had already qualified the proposition in California, Oregon and Colorado.

Koupal was a determined and effective campaigner whose passion for causes often led him against the mainstream.

Gov. Brown said Monday Koupal “was a rare spirit who followed his vision with a joy and relentless energy that this practical world finds hard to understand.”

Koupal had worked closely with then-Secretary of State Brown on the political reform initiative, a campaign that more than any other brought Koupal and People’s Lobby into strident visibility.

He was a man of abundant drive, and those in his way found themselves in the path of a  hurricane.

“I never met anyone quite like Ed,” said Thomas Quinn, chairman of the state Air Resources Board and former assistant secretary of state under Brown.

“He was a strong human being, a dynamo, and he made gathering signatures an art. To him, the petition was the highest form of democracy, the way people could control government.”

Quinn said that when the political reform initiative campaign began, he wanted Common Cause involved in order “to keep those crazy Koupals in line. But over the months I learned that it was the Koupals who kept the campaign in line.

“Without Ed, victory could not have happened.”

Quinn and others thought Koupal brought the techniques of a salesman to politics and used them with conscience and wit.

“He became angry,” Quinn said, “when that process was perverted and told his petition-gatherers to always be honest. But he would also show me what he had learned as a used car salesman.

“When you handed someone a clip­board to sign a petition, you handed it to him at an angle so that the pen rolled into his hand. Once they had the pen, they almost always signed.”

During the course of the initiative campaign, People’s Lobby and Common Cause were often at each other’s throats.

Common Cause was slow and deliberate in its efforts, and People’s Lobby — led by the hard-charging Koupals — was an earthquake.

Koupal would angrily storm out of meetings between the two organizations during the drafting of the initiative.

A third party said at the time: “Ed is a horse trader. When he threatens to walk out he’s just bargaining. It is irritating but effective…”

Koupal was born in Eugene, Ore. In 1964, he moved his family to Sacramento and to his first confrontation with the Establishment.

“We found,” he told the press, “that we were paying for sewers, sidewalks and streets that we didn’t have. On looking further, we also found that seven houses which did have these things didn’t have to pay for them.”

The Koupals went to court to fight an oil company’s threatened takeover of their sewer district, won, and were on their way.

A short time later, they tried to re­call then-Gov. Ronald Reagan and failed.

But then People’s Lobby was born, and the Koupals’ energies ever since were concentrated on that.

What the lobby became, by one definition, was “not an organization, but two people — Ed and Joyce — with a lot of true believers who follow an honest passion for political reform…”

Koupal, among his last words to his wife, said it differently. He said, “We’ve got it made.”

He also leaves three children, Cecil, Christine and Diane. Funeral services were pending Monday.

His requiem is encompassed in an observation by Tom Quinn.

“What we have here,” he said, “is the death of a salesman . . . in the best sense of the word.”


“He worked indefatigably and selflessly to put the people back into democracy. More than anyone else he has revitalized the use of the initiative, referendum and recall and put these vital citizen tools back into the mainstream of state politics. He was a citizen’s citizen.”

Ralph Nader


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