H.E. (Pat) Mullvain and J.D. (Doc) Belt are old friends and former Navy men who think the ship of state has veered off-course--and they believe they know how to get it back on track.
Mullvain, 71, and Belt, 69, are the Ventura County organizers for a national bipartisan group, the Coalition to End the Permanent Congress. Proudly wearing T-shirts that ask, "Are You Happy With Government Today?" the men presided Saturday over the first meeting of the new Ventura County chapter at John Charles Fremont Intermediate School in Oxnard. Mullvain did most of the talking.
"There are a lot of legislators that I have no quarrel with," Mullvain said, "except they've been there too long, and they have a defeatist attitude."
The national Coalition to End the Permanent Congress was founded after the 1988 elections. It advocates, among other things, the elimination of political action committees, banning the use of the congressional frank for unsolicited mass mailings, term limits and greater ballot access for third-party candidates.
"Ninety-eight percent of the Congress gets reelected. People like Robert Byrd and Strom Thurmond have been there forever," Mullvain said, referring to the Democratic senator from West Virginia and the Republican senator from South Carolina, respectively. "If they haven't made their self-appointed goals in two terms, then the PACs have them under their control."
The turnout Saturday of only about a dozen people did not seem to bother either man. Mullvain said this was the first time he has been politically active, although he has always espoused "voting the 'ins' out."
He and Belt, who both live in Oxnard, became involved with the coalition in June and began organizing in Ventura County in September. In November, they worked local shopping centers and malls, passing out leaflets and getting signatures. They now boast a roster of 109 members and a mailing list of more than 250 names. Mullvain said the group is truly a grass-roots organization.
"I hope to get our chapter going and meet with the membership, " Mullvain said, "and get them to talk to their neighbors and friends."
The people at Saturday's meeting gave varying reasons for their dissatisfaction with government.
Mary Rose of Agoura Hills said her interest in the coalition grew out of her frustration with banking regulatory agencies while working as a consultant.
Patricia Cook of Woodland Hills, the coalition's coordinator for the Northwestern Group of Southern California, said she initially became involved with the coalition because of her concern for her brother, a soldier in the Persian Gulf War.
"I have two children, and I'm very concerned about my country," Cook said. "It's going down the toilet. What am I leaving my children if I don't become politically active?"
Concern for the future was also a motivating factor for Mary E. Grondie of Ventura, who works for the state Department of Consumer Affairs.
"Our living standard has been eroded over the last 20 years," Grondie said. "I've got a daughter who's been out of work for six months, and she has a daughter to support.
"My son has a good job, but he can't afford to buy a home."