Published Marin Independent Journal, October 26, 1994
‘God’s angry man’ told us so
Since IT’S NEARING election time, I wandered to Ross Perot’s Autumn ’94 “Let’s get ’em!” Marin Civic Center rally. Then I went to a Kathleen Brown meeting, where they scrutinize for spies as they manufacture and hand out yard signs. I went because I once did some political stuff.
Whether I worked for brother Jerry Brown or introduced George McGovern to a crowd of 15,000, my political work taught me that awe and adulation ain’t deserved for most who play the game. There’s only one political guy I look back on and always up to.
Leading jazz bands was his love. Selling used cars was one of his jobs.
When his car dealership owner went to jail, Ed Koupal threw such a giant “Jail Sale” that Sacramento’s dealers forced Ford to squelch his “marketedly incorrect” but hugely successful gambit. When Reagan cut state budgets by closing homes for the infirm, Ed mounted a recall that stunted Ron’s early presidential aspirations.
When Ed gagged on L.A.’s smog, he formed People’s Lobby, revived the dormant initiative process for grass roots organizations and, with a $9,000 budget, put the Clean Environment Initiative on the 1972 ballot. When big money nuked our efforts to lower the lead content in gasoline, reduce sulfur-dioxide emissions in diesel fuel, ban DDT and stop construction of nuclear reactors, Ed taught us to get even by leading the 1974 Political Reform Initiative to a 70 percent victory.
Common Cause and Jerry Brown joined that crusade. Back then, candidate Jerry didn’t sound like Edwin Koupal. Today, minus Ed’s pork-chop sideburns, humor, fun and commanding presence, Jerry often echoes him: “Only Nader deserves to stay in Washington.”
To Ed, political icons weren’t good enough. Once, Ed chewed into Nader: “If you wanna get something done, don’t waste time trying to reform the system or begging politicians to do it right.
‘Write your own damn laws. Recall the bums and put the really_ _ _ _ _ _ ones in jail.”
Nader said, “Show me.” Ed organized Western Bloc, a coalition of 15 initiative states to stop nuclear reactor construction.
Western Bloc instituted the National Initiative, Referendum and Recall (NIR&R) as the 27th (then) amendment to the Constitution. It picked up 55 cosponsors and support from Jack Kemp and Recall Ronnie. Unfortunately, columnist Tom Wicker was prophetic: “No one need worry, however, about Congress taking plenty of time to study these particular reforms, striking as they do at Congressional power.”
When Ed Koupal, “one of God’s angry men” left for heaven in 1976, most of the 50 “long-haired, crazy and radical People’s Lobby mules” took refuge from a political scene that had lost the only guy they knew deserved awe and adulation. Today, the direct democracy tools he wanted constitutionalized still seem needed.
Some politicians skirt the need, saying, “The initiative process is too complicated for regular folk! A National IR&R would be ghastly!”
“Too complicated” for the regular folks who employ highly paid politicians? If our employees can’t “KISS” (keep it simple, stupid), maybe we ought to add a jazz man’s song score that will at least make them dance.
California’s initiatives are judicially limited to one subject and are generally from two to 20 pages. “Keeping it simple, stupid” is easier in initiatives than in those 1,500-plus-page Congressional omnibus pork bills. Few legislators read those bills. Knowing only generalities, they vote as their specially interested parties dictate.
Democracy ain’t a box of chocolates. Today’s world is harder to chew and digest. So if you’re growling a lot, consider exercising the National Initiative and abiding by the People’s Lobby adage, “Final responsibility rests with the people, therefore never is final authority delegated.”
Dwayne Hunn, a resident of Mill Valley, is working on a book about the National IR&R and will be teaching at the University o[ San Francisco. People’s Lobby‘s mailing address is
5075 Cha rmian Dr., Santo Rosa 95409.