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Campaign to Defeat Prop. 65

November 27, 1986

Peter King's saga (Times, Nov. 10-15) of the No on 65 campaign left many of political consultant Doug Watts' pontifications go unchallenged--even uninvestigated. Watts' rather biased perspective deserved at least minimal scrutiny to separate reality from fantasy.

Watts claimed Proposition 65 was part of some grand Democratic scheme to make toxics a key issue in November. He maligned the proponents' motives and even went so far as to suggest part of their agenda was to destroy California agriculture.

To the contrary, the initiative was the product of years of frustration with government's failure to protect Californians from dangerous chemicals. Backers were sincere in their commitment to a safer environment. Perhaps Watts only sees issues through his own political lens. This myopia undoubtedly contributed to his misguided "full of exemptions" strategy.

Next, Watts et al., bemoan their lack of money. Records on file with the secretary of state show the No on 65 campaign collected $5 million in five months, nearly four times what the proponents spent after the initiative qualified. (Russo, Watts-Rollins, incidentally, earned more than $500,000 in fees.

Chevron and other oil companies rallied corporate America with a vigorous, sometimes hysterical fund-raising drive. They even bought a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal urging companies to contribute to "prevent the second biggest business disaster in California history" (the first: the stock market crash of 1929). Third, Watts implies the campaign was probably unwinnable from the start. But Proposition 65 was the first contested environmental ballot measure to win in California since the Coastal Act in 1972. Eight initiatives had lost in the intervening 14 years. And polls showed 40% undecided a week before the election.

Finally and perhaps most absurdly, Watts suggests that Atty. John Van de Kamp's official ballot description of Proposition 65 was biased--part of the grand Democratic Party conspiracy. The official title--"Restrictions on Toxic Discharges into Drinking Water; Requirement of Notice of Persons' Exposure to Toxics"--reflects exactly what the initiative did.

Poor Russo, Watts+Rollins. All they had was a popular governor, $5 million, most of the corporate America, and 14 years of history on their side. Their alibis notwithstanding, they misjudged the motives of the proponents, the content of the initiative, and the intelligence of the electorate.

We "pro-Bradley stooges" who are out to "destroy California agriculture" will miss the "fools of exemptions" when they move to New York.

TOM EPSTEIN

Campaign Manager, Yes on 65

Santa Monica

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