A dozen shouting protesters crashed a women's club luncheon Wednesday to confront former INS Regional Director and keynote speaker Harold W. Ezell over his support of Proposition 187, the initiative that would restrict education and health services for illegal immigrants.
The protesters, who included several San Fernando Valley clergymen, surrounded Ezell in a banquet room of the Sportsmen's Lodge as he was served his lunch, then followed him around the room, shouting at him until police arrived.
There were no arrests and order was restored after about 15 minutes. But Ezell--apparently worn down by protests directed at him personally--said his appearance before the Encino Republican Women Federated group would be his last until election night.
"I'm not going to be the issue, and they don't pay me enough to be the issue," said Ezell, who later gave his planned speech to the club after the protesters were escorted outside. "I told my wife six weeks ago that I would accept no more speaking engagements."
The Newport Beach businessman said he would be visiting South Africa for 10 days and, with other out-of-state commitments, did not plan to return to California until shortly before the election.
Ezell, co-author of Proposition 187, has been the target of criticism by opponents of the initiative, who last week briefly disrupted a campaign forum at the Museum of Tolerance in West Los Angeles.
Wednesday's protest was organized by members of Valley Organized in Community Efforts, a San Fernando-based coalition of 15 Catholic, Protestant and Jewish congregations. The coalition, commonly known as VOICE, claims to represent 35,000 families.
Protesters accused Ezell of assisting wealthy foreign business investors in gaining legal residence while backing a measure that would disproportionately hurt poor immigrants.
"He is a coyote for rich people," said Father Pat Murphy of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church in Sun Valley, using the Spanish slang for an immigrant smuggler. "Why doesn't he want to help any poor people?"
In response, Ezell said later that as a private businessman he has assisted investors who qualify for legal residence under federal law.
Murphy and a dozen others had entered the rented banquet room, walking quickly to Ezell's place at the head table, shouting, "We have some questions for Mr. Ezell!" They were met by shouts of "Get out of here!" from club members.
Ezell refused to answer questions, finally getting up from his seat and wandering from one corner of the room to another, followed by the protesters.
Club President Pat Cook at one point used the microphone to beg Ezell to return to his seat to finish his lunch, while another club member used her napkin to try to shield the guest speaker from news cameras.
Ezell later called the party crashers "savages," congratulating the 50 or so invited guests for their well-mannered conduct during the protest.
"This is a legal issue, not a racial issue," Ezell said regarding Proposition 187. "And the conduct of these people today suggests anarchy. I was invited here to speak . . . and they come in and acted like a bunch of animals."
Club member Mary Werther said she did not feel in danger during the rowdy protest but "to disrupt our lunch like that was just unthinkable."
Ezell said the apparent groundswell of support for the initiative is similar to the feelings that propelled Proposition 13, the landmark property tax measure. He welcomes comparisons to Proposition 13 crusader Howard Jarvis, saying in his speech that Jarvis' widow told him, "I only wish Howard was alive, to see him stand shoulder to shoulder with you."
Ezell was even mistakenly introduced by an embarrassed club member as "Howard Ezell."
Proposition 187, which is leading in public opinion polls, calls for verification of U.S. citizenship or legal residence for students of California public schools as well as anyone receiving medical services, except for emergencies. The initiative would also require police to notify federal authorities of anyone suspected of being in the United States illegally.
"That will put the fear of God into illegals more than anything else," Ezell said.
Critics say the initiative would create a new set of health, crime and illiteracy problems while doing little to slow illegal immigration.
"I think voters need to know the consequences of this bill and who's behind it," said one of the protesters, Ralph Midtlyng, pastor of All Saints Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sun Valley and Burbank.