Sen. William Campbell's fifth annual Conference on Women opened Monday in Anaheim with a quiet protest by a dozen prominent feminists who called Campbell a "hypocrite" and charged that he frequently votes against women's issues in the Legislature.
The conference--an extravaganza of career inspiration, self-awareness tips and shopping--has drawn a record 14,000 participants this year, organizers said. The two-day, one evening event features television personality Oprah Winfrey, who was Monday's keynote speaker, Voyager pilots Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan, and Jehan Sadat, former first lady of Egypt, who is scheduled to speak at lunch today. Participants, almost all of them women, spend $35 a day to attend, a fee that covers luncheon expenses.
Monday's protesters represented an ad hoc coalition called We Are Women. They distributed leaflets that attacked Campbell for "one of the worst voting records in the California state Senate." They said Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights) missed many important votes and that when he has voted, he has opposed such proposals as forming a commission to oversee pay equity for women. He abstained on a vote to label alcohol with warnings for pregnant women, said Vivian Hall, co-chair of Women's Network Alert, who organized the coalition.
"If women understood what he does behind their backs, they would not support him," Hall said.
Campbell dismissed much of the criticism as politically motivated.
Among the coalition members were Elisabeth Dungan, Southern District chair of the American Assn. of University Women; Mary Ann Gaido, a former member of the Irvine City Council; Molly Lyon, co-chair of the Great American Write In, a forum in which participants write letters to their elected representatives; Margie Fites Seigel, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Orange County, and Pauline Robinson, president of the Older Women's League in Orange County.
The conference has divided women activists. The League of Women Voters in Los Angeles and Orange counties is administering scholarships to the conference, but members of the Orange County Commission on the Status of Women voted against having a booth at the conference because it was becoming a controversial and seemingly partisan issue, said commission member Robinson, who passed out leaflets Monday.
For the most part, conference-goers read the literature politely and hurried into the Anaheim Hilton and Towers.
"I disassociate Campbell from the conference," said Saundra Stark, an office manager from Placentia. A two-time conference participant, she said she likes the show of "strength, unity and intelligence" among women she finds at the conference.
She would come back to Campbell's conference next year though she disagrees with his votes, she said. "My position might be the means justify the ends," she said.
Campbell said he doesn't pay much attention to his feminist critics, who also picketed the first conference four years ago. "We think we've demonstrated our commitment to women's issues by participating in this conference," he said. "Our success frustrates them."
He suggested that protesters are supporters of Gray Davis, who beat Campbell last year in the race for state controller.
If he had used the conference to promote himself, Campbell asked, "why didn't I get elected?"
Responding to charges that he did not vote on several matters that are important to women, Campbell said he missed many Senate votes last year because of gall bladder surgery.
Overflow Crowds Drawn
While he is permanently opposed to abortion on philosophical grounds, he said his women's conferences--co-sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Chrysler Corp.--have elevated his interest in other women's issues such as child care, spousal abuse and work-place issues.
In the conference Monday morning, many of the 200 seminars, on topics as diverse as "Love and Addiction" and "Government Help for Export Sales," drew overflow crowds. Women carrying red, white and blue bags marked "Senator Campbell's Conference on Women" scurried from floor to floor looking for "Personal Computers" or "The Impact of AIDS on Married People." One ballroom was filled with commercial booths--some selling lingerie or folding machines--while others dispensed career advice from professional recruiters.
One man passed out flyers for "New Age Computerized Hair Styling With Our Video Image Processor!"
"I've been standing in line for 2 1/2 hours," said Deborah Nagayama, 36, of Van Nuys. The first two lectures she heard were filled, and all seats were taken at the first of three luncheons.
No Profit, Campbell Says
Tina Marie Walker, 27, a clerk-typist from Los Angeles, said her employer, the U.S. Department of Immigration, gave her the day off to attend the conference and paid her registration. "I love it. It's great," she said. Her favorite seminar was "Cinderella Syndrome," given by Lee Ezell, wife of the Western regional commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Harold Ezell.