Her candidacy for the U.S. Senate has sputtered to a disappointing, inconclusive limbo. But there is no denying March Fong Eu's skill and success at old-fashioned populist political showmanship.
On Monday, California's secretary of state, the victim of a vicious attack last year, sat arm-to-arm with two other prominent California women crime victims to publicize her alternative campaign--this one to raise liquor taxes $150 million a year to finance more police.
Six television cameras and at least 22 still photographers and reporters surrounded Eu at the Los Angeles Press Club where she was seated alongside Los Angeles Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, still hoarse from a knife attack May 6, and actress Theresa Saldana, who was attacked and stabbed in 1982.
A Busy Week
Other candidates of Eu's stature would have done almost anything short of commiting a crime to draw such a crush of reporters on such a crowd-pleasing issue. And Eu is doing it every day for the next week, up and down the state from San Diego to Redding with 21 other stops in between.
Her proposal is in the form of a ballot initiative targeted for the June, 1988, statewide primary election. Between now and December, she must obtain 595,485 petition signatures to qualify it for a vote. It would increase taxes 10 cents on every half-pint of hard liquor and 10 cents per gallon on beer and wine, hence the title of the initiative, "Dimes Against Crimes."
The $150 million in estimated new revenues would be divided up among police and sheriff's departments based on population--an estimated $19 million for the City of Los Angeles and $47 million for the county.
Staying in the News
"Nothing is more important to me, personally and politically, than qualifying and passing this measure," Eu said. "I am, therefore, putting my campaign for the U.S. Senate on hold until 'Dimes Against Crimes' qualifies this December."
For the time being, the unspoken but acknowledged meaning of this statement is that Eu is still hoping to win the Democratic nomination for the Senate--as the champion of this state ballot measure. The plan is for her to stay in the news through the fall and winter, establishing an image as a can-do politician on a deeply troubling social issue, and daring anyone to oppose her.
Whether California is ready for such a single-issue U.S. senator, or whether Eu will be able to successfully branch out into more orthodox politics next year remains to be decided.
In her first four months as a Senate candidate, Eu proved uninformed or without opinions on a whole range of national issues, from arms control to the minimum wage. And she has been unable to make her fund-raising goals, in part because federal law limits contributions to $1,000 per person. These limits do not apply to state ballot initiative campaigns, and presumably Eu will find raising money easier when she can tap a few wealthy backers for large contributions.
Eu has once before shown how she can move the California electorate with a populist crusade. In 1974, she was a state assemblywoman who defied establishment odds makers and won election as secretary of state after campaigning up and down the state on another issue--banning pay toilets in public buildings.