WHEREAS, It was with the most profound sorrow that the Members learned of the passing of a determined political activist and the founder of the Peoples Lobby, Mr. Edwin A. Koupal, on March 29, 1976, at the age of 48; and
WHEREAS, Mr. Koupal, who, together with his wife, Joyce, founded Peoples Lobby in 1968, transformed the organization into a powerful reform voice though the use of the initiative process, with the capstone of his efforts being the passing of proposition 9, the Fair Political Practices Act, by the voters of the state in 1974; and
WHEREAS, His first grassroots effort to qualify an initiative for the ballot was the Clean Environment Act of 1972, and he led the initiative drive for the upcoming June Primary ballot for nuclear safeguards, Proposition 15; and, at the time of his death, he was attempting to add the initiative and referendum process to the United States Constitution; and
WHEREAS, A native of Eugene, Oregon, Mr. Koupal was a graduate of Sacramento High School; worked as a bartender, car salesman, and chicken rancher; and got his political start when he and his wife attempted to put together a recall campaign against Governor Ronald Reagan; and
WHEREAS, In anticipation of the June 1976 Primary ballot, wherein Proposition 15 seeks to place a moratorium on nuclear power plant construction in California, he allied himself and Peoples Lobby with consumer advocate Ralph Nader to form a new organization called the Western Bloc, and he was in charge of gathering signatures for initiative petitions in six western states to put the nuclear initiative on the ballot; and
WHEREAS, He was one of the strongest advocates in a line of California reformers who have kept alive the promise of Hiram Johnson to make the government of the state accessible and open to the people of the state: and the courageous command he took of his last days was as much a source of strength to his family and friends as his death is a source of sorrow to all of us; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED BY THE SENATE RULES COMMITTEE, That the members express their deepest sympathies at the passing of Mr. Edwin A. Koupal, an, by this resolution, memorialize his illustrious record of personal and professional achievement, his dedication to democracy and political reform and the love and devotion he displayed on behalf of his family and friends; and be it further
RESOLVED, That suitably prepared copies of this resolution be transmitted to his wife, Joyce and children, Christine, Diane and Cecil.
California Senator David Roberti
1975-76 SRCR 304/EDWIN KOUPAL in Senator Roberti’s archives.
Raising the nation’s public policy IQ…Adding the National Initiative to Democracy’s Toolbox.
People’s Lobby Newsletter – Special Issue – May/June 1976
ED KOUPAL: “DREAM BIGGER!”
BY DWAYNE HUNN, Member of People’s Lobby
Ed Koupal, fresh from failing to recall Reagan in 1968, came into the smoggy Los Angeles skies like a breath of fresh air. Out of their ramshackle house, he and his wife gave teach-ins while they learned of smog. Around them gathered a group of “Crazies” and from that mind track came the first successfully sponsored grassroots initiative in California’s history. Millions of oil and nuclear industry dollars defeated that initiative, but it only toughened the Koupals and their still “crazy” but “wiser” Lobby.
The “Crazies” worked harder, laughed louder at their nastier political jokes, and vowed deeper to get the vested interests out of the political process. Because Ed felt it deeper, cared more, and worked harder, he became the super crazy, the giant among the lion cubs. By election night in November of 1974 those crazies became a power to be reckoned with in the state. Their Political Reform Initiative won with the largest plurality in California history.
Most people will remember Ed Koupal for his political accomplishments — the Clean Environment Act, Political Reform Initiative, numerous lawsuits. They will remember him when they continue to hear of People’s Lobby, that group Whitaker and Baxter Ad Agency branded as “long haired, mosquito worshiping radicals” in full page ads in 1972 that by 1974 had earned the L. A. Times title of “blue jeaned populists.”
To hundreds of blue jeaned populists he was a loved father, friend, rabble rouser, troublemaker and joker. His wicked, cutting jokes and his quick hands kept everyone laughing, on their toes, and sometimes embarrassed. His vocabulary could make Richard Nixon’s expletive deleted tapes a Sunday sermon in comparison. His insights, organizing, and energy excited one to the successes that are possible in a sick political system.
Ink and paper will never capture Ed Koupal. How does one capture a man who, with no name recognition or money, builds what Ralph Nader calls the “strongest grassroots political organization in the nation”? What was it in the man that brought tears to Governor Brown? What kind of man is it that keeps his cancer down and secret till the inevitable end because he has “too much to do and no time for dying”? What kind of man chooses to die on his own terms — without pain killing drugs and life support systems? How do you measure one who plays Benny Goodman tapes, drinks wine and cracks jokes in his last days and buoys the grieving around him? The concentrated economic powers, the vested interests, and jealous sniped at him till the end. In the confines of that hospital, he confessed how they could have taken him out of his crusades. “If they would have given me a 21 piece band to conduct, I would have been out of their hair the next day,” said the grinning, diehard Dorsey trumpeter.
Burly Ed Koupal is gone now. His legacy is the accomplishments and goals of People’s Lobby. It is the footprint he’s left in the butt of many politicians. It is the hope he’s given many that the system can be changed. It is the indelible impression he has left on the minds and hearts of hundreds who were privileged to rub shoulders with him “in the trenches – out in the streets, getting signatures – where the people are.”
I spent April 3rd listening to eulogies. Listened to Tom Quinn say, “I’ve heard people say, ‘Ed Koupal is crazy, obstinate, stubborn.’ I agree. I’ve heard them say, ‘He is the most demanding and just about the nastiest man.’ I agree. The special thing about Ed that makes that okay is that Ed Koupal cared. He cared enough to do something. If you care, do, and fight enough, you will accomplish something. Ed accomplished something and now Ed’s fight must be our fight, if we care.”
I listened to State Senator Roberti say, “If Ed were looking down now, he’d be wondering what we were doing. He’d want everyone here getting signatures. His message to each of us was to churn up hell, in our own way. Ed would rather see us doing that than this.”
Hijinio Romo repeated Ed’s parting words to Joyce, “We’ve got it made – you don’t have to cry.” That, however, has not held the tears back. Those who frequented his machine-strewn house knew the loss. The loss was one of God’s great, angry men.
Society lost more, if they never knew this giant who was fighting the good war for them. Society never got to rub shoulders with him. Those of us who did – we cry because we wanted more time for more of him to rub off on us.
Ed had no time for movies. Instead, his life was an award winning movie- riddled with excitement, vigor, and courage. Ed had no time for reading books. Instead, he lived so he knew more than any college professor I had ever met.
Koupal’s words should be captured in movies, in books, and for college professors. They show where Koupal was going and where he wanted to take you and I. Culled from Steering Board Meetings, from the circuit, from company – some of these words I’d like to share with you:
During one of People’s Lobby’s many financial straits:
“I’d rather put social justice in the bank than money.”
On coming back from setbacks:
“Grass keeps growing out of freeway cracks. If you don’t drive on it for three hours, it keeps trying to get through.”
Berating us at a Steering Board Meeting:
“Dream bigger. Think bigger, and things will get bigger. No room in a strong organization for devil’s advocacy. We need positivism.”
Nader introducing the Koupals at the 1974 Critical Mass Conference in Washington:
“The Koupals, who face adversity as children face chocolate ice cream.”
Between the defeat of the Clean Environment and the victory of the Political Reform Initiative:
“Success is failure analyzed. Success is staying power.”
Lecturing Steering Board on the need to keep a head of steam:
“If you don’t have any goals, anything to go for – you’ll go flat, go broke.”
On how Ed keeps his crusading energy:
“I get up in the morning and read the Times. I see some more people getting screwed, and I’m peeved and have to do something.”
On how People’s Lobby was and should be seen:
“The California Reporter wrote that anyone against Proposition 9 — People’s Lobby will investigate. We’re known as bastards. We want that reputation. Want to be known as honest, but hard bas-tards. That’s what they respect out there.”
On initiative campaigns:
“Doing good is like fighting a war. When it starts, you can’t leave the war for casualties. Nothing takes precedence.”
On public financing of elections:
“Politicians don’t trust the poor and needy – they give them food stamps. People’s Lobby suggests the same for politicians. Instead of giving them money, give them public services – give them media, office space, etc.”
On the victorious election night for the Political Reform Initiative, telegram sent to the opposition, the-Public Relations Firm of Whitaker and Baxter:
The people have won. Couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks,
On KCBS, San Francisco, after the Political Reform Initiative was law:
“We voted political reform into law… We, we the voters of California, voted to clean up campaigning. Well, there are campaigns going on right now and nothing is being done to police them. The nuclear initiative campaign is running in high gear and the opponents of this thing are not following the law we voted in…
“The problem is Dan Lowenstein has the mind of a social worker… He believes you can reform these politicians, get them to be good… Well, we’ve been trying that since the days of Arti Samish and it hasn’t worked… What you need to do is throw a couple of these politicians in jail… whomever they might be. Throw them in jail when they break the law and then you’ll see all those politicians reforming. Unfortunately, that requires more than the mind of a social worker — that takes the mind of a cop.”
On what’s wrong:
“Freedom to do your own thing is not ‘freedom’. What we need to insure freedom is accountability.
“Our politicians confuse freedom with license. The proper business of business is business, not government. The proper business of people is government.”
“Americans are conditioned… Conditioned to go to a movie for $2.50 a week. Yet they won’t give $100 a year to clean up politics.
“Talk to groups with a mission in your mind, with blood in your eye. Living in this country isn’t free. If there is no accountability — there is license. Get that point across to them.”
On making points in the media:
“Don’t let your mouth overtake your mind. Talk of what you know. Talk slow and deliberately. Use as few words as possible to make your points”
Don Koch on Ed and Joyce Koupal and People’s Lobby:
“Ed and Joyce are a national resource – they are not mere humans. I challenge anyone to find anyone in the last 50 years who could’ve formed this lobby. It is fundamental democracy.
“Don’t sell this country short. No country is capable of containing this fantastic notion that the Lobby has now. It’s involved in the second American Revolution. It’s a high stepping organization — but it’s not elitist because no one is good enough. It’s most serious requirement is money – we need one-quarter to one-half million dollars to swing this national initiative.
Ed again, on the national initiative:
“The erosion of public confidence is due to the misuse of money and power. We’re creating the missing institution in the U.S. We’re putting checks and balances between the legislature and the people.
“Marking a ballot every couple years is absentee management. Therefore we need the national referendum, recall, and initiative to be passed on in sacred trust to be proficiently used.”
Ed’s often-heard parting instructions:
“Don’t let your meat loaf. We gotta get boogieen …… “
Many of us will remember Ed – his thick hands, his bushy white sideburns, his strong voice that always cut to the heart of the issue – “Let’s quit the bull-shit and get to it!” Many will remember he cared – not for himself with his two worn suits, holes in shoes, boiled potato dinners – but for a country “out there.” He wasted no time telling you he cared -he spent all of his time and energy proving it.
We loved you, Ed. We’ll miss you. Watch over your Joyce. Only in having had such a giant as you, could she carry the loss.
“Ed Koupal was a rare spirit who followed his vision with a joy and relentless energy that this practical world finds hard to understand.”
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.