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His Type of Job : John Kurzweil of Sherman Oaks publishes a conservative political magazine.

August 14, 1992|PAUL CIOTTI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the last 15 years, John Kurzweil has had half a dozen jobs with conservative political organizations ranging from the California Republican Party to the Heritage Foundation, but it wasn't until he started publishing his own small-circulation magazine out of the living room of his Sherman Oaks townhouse that he finally understood the meaning of tedium, strain and unrelenting hard work.

"The amount of effort I put in this every day far surpasses anything I ever did on my best day at any other job," Kurzweil said. "A lot of drudgery goes into publishing a magazine. There's unbelievable detail, thousands of potential mistakes. It takes 10 solid days to get the camera-ready copy to the printer. I always start off trying to put it together with a normal work schedule--take a lunch break, go to dinner. After a week, I realize I will never finish. Pretty soon I'm getting up at 5 a.m. I have breakfast and lunch at my desk. I'm faxing things back and forth. Then I collapse into bed and get up at dawn and do it again the next day."

What he produces for all that effort is California Political Review, a serious conservative policy journal, published on heavy stock, illustrated with 19th-Century woodcuts and dealing with matters such as parental choice in public schools, UC Berkeley molecular biologist Peter Duesberg's attack on the HIV theory of AIDS, Hollywood's leftward tilt, the ACLU's battle with the Boy Scouts over references to God in the Boy Scout oath, Pete Wilson's liberal surrender, left-wing political conformity on college campuses and "neo-Darwinist pseudo-science."

The magazine has been praised by people such as former Gov. George Deukmejian and U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Herschensohn, who says the magazine is "filling a critical need in the Golden State by focusing attention on both the conservative successes and liberal failures that the major media so rarely cover."

Other people are less enthusiastic. When, on a recent radio program, Kurzweil endorsed White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater's contention that the failures of the Great Society caused the Los Angeles riots ("I can't imagine anything more true," Kurzweil said), a listener phoned to call him a fascist.

Kurzweil never started out to be a magazine publisher--events just seemed to push him that way, starting in 1976 when, with shoulder-length hair and a new diploma from Humboldt State, he volunteered for the Reagan Youth Campaign and found himself on a 95% female college campus in Greensboro, N.C.

He came out of that experience with two insights. The first was never to schedule political rallies when the hometown team was in the quarterfinals of a basketball tournament. The second was the personal realization that he was far less interested in the nitty-gritty of running a campaign than in dealing with the issues. He went back to school, this time the University of Missouri, to earn a graduate degree in journalism.

When he came out, his first job was working as press liaison for former California state Sen. H. L. Richardson's Law and Order Committee. He subsequently worked at the National Catholic Register, put out a policy digest newsletter for the Heritage Foundation and worked in public relations for Getty Oil.

Although he started every job with high enthusiasm, he soon became bored. "I was never in a high-up position," he said. "I was always a drone." So in 1983, Kurzweil took a stab at doing something that gave him control for a chance: "I set up a political action committee, Family Coalition of California, to see if we could raise some interest in social issues."

That didn't pan out, but he soon saw an opportunity to transform his Family Coalition PAC into a vehicle to help defeat Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird of the California Supreme Court in her 1986 reelection campaign.

At the time, Kurzweil says, law school professors who supported Bird were taking the tack that any attack on Bird was an attack on the state judiciary. Therefore, to protect the court, you had to retain Bird, whether you agreed with her or not, they reasoned.

Kurzweil was incredulous. "Her record was indefensible," he said. "It was nonsense to say that you couldn't talk about what kind of a judge she was."

To explode the notion that all law professors were supporting Bird on principle, Kurzweil persuaded Philip Johnson, a conservative law professor at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall, to write a 30-page pamphlet (known as the Blue Booklet) attacking Bird's performance. Kurzweil raised $25,000 from contributors, printed 10,000 copies of the Blue Booklet and sent copies of the pamphlet, called "The Court on Trial," to the media and law professors throughout the state.

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