Who is Ted Costa?
Well, the goals of People’s Advocate are really this: Paul (Gann) laid them down; he said that when he went to the capitol and he looked around, he saw every special interest was represented there. He saw that the unions were represented, the corporations were represented, local governments were represented, local governments — it’s big business for local government to lobby the state. All the special interests had their lobbyists at the state capitol . . . So he said, “The people need their advocate.’
Source: California State Archives State Government Oral History Program, Interview with Edward Costa, 1990.
The man will try to tell you that he doesn’t know much about politics because he doesn’t fancy himself a politician. He’s promoted 12 statewide initiatives resulting in constitutional and statutory amendments, managed 25 election campaigns, and, learned first-hand about political ground swells in 1978 when Paul Gann and Howard Jarvis successfully organized Proposition 13, the Property Tax Initiative in California. His jacket — though he rarely wears anything more formal than a short-sleeved working man’s shirt — boldly sports a lapel pin that screams “NO NEW TAXES.” He’s driven a red ’63 F100 Ford pickup, now with 300,000 miles on it, since anyone can remember. And that would a long time.
Meet Edward “Ted” Costa, Chief Executive Officer, People’s Advocate, Inc.
A People’s Advocate in the Making
Plain, ordinary hard work is a Costa family birthright. Both sets of grandparents immigrated from the Azores. “In 1921 my dad came town to live with his aunt.” In the midst of the Depression, he married Ted’s Berkely-born mother and started farming forty acres with two teams of horses. By the time Ted arrived the family homestead had grown to 150 acres, a good portion of which is now occupied by the Sacramento International Airport.
After attending American River College, Ted Joined the United States Coast Guard in 1962, serving a total of eight years including six months of active duty. Three years later Ted was working nine hours a day, six days a week with the reclamation district of Sacramento. In 1969 while at the country fair, the Young Republicans snagged his interest in politics, “something I had thought a lot about as a kid but believing that it was the sort of thing ‘other people’ did. He left his job to work on campaigns: school board, city council, supervisory, and assembly, so many, so well that by 1970, at the age of twenty-nine, Ted was awarded “Outstanding Young Republican of the Year.”
One of these campaigns, the Fair Presidential Primary of 1979 in California, introduced Ted to George Bush and the statewide initiative process; this one in particular would change the manner in which delegates were apportioned to the National Convention. The initiative fizzled and with it, Bush’s first attempt at the Presidency.
“I traveled from Bakersfield to Oregon passing out these initiative petitions, sleeping in my car, eating in my car and living in my car.” Later, these impressions turned into the late Bill Robert’s philosophy of campaigning: find the best candidate and do all that you can to elect him or her. With that, Ted and an army of volunteers elected a candidate to the Sacramento City Council with $2,400, and another with $1,600, both of which were outspent by others in the race by margins of 15 to 1. Still, Ted was disillusioned with politics. “I could work my heart out for the candidate I wanted to support, but we never had the proper financing because we didn’t have the support of the establishment and their sources for big money.”
Gann and Costa
In 1962 when the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors passed a 51% pay raise Ted Costa teamed up with Paul Gann who had founded People’s Advocate, Inc. (PA). In two weeks volunteers collected 51,000 signatures needed to defeat the pay raise and showed Ted the power of what he refers to as a “political ground swell,” lending organizational power to a populist initiative and watching it grow. Gann and Costa organized six such statewide initiatives over the next seven years. Having majored in mass communications and public opinion polling while attending UC Davis in the late seventies, Ted was able to bolster the enthusiasm of volunteers and financial supporters alike with hard data. This kind of credence created the core for the political ground swell and a quantitative measure of the campaign’s progress.
People’s Advocate After Gann
Gann passed away in 1989 leaving a legacy of accomplishments and a board of Directors with a void to fill. Without hesitation they unanimously elected Ted to a post created especially for him, that of Chief Executive Officer.
He’s not disappointed them.
Ted has qualified three initiatives, all of which the California voting public passed into law. InJune of 1999 — armed with a resource list and house file of approximately 450,000 contributors and volunteers statewide, many of whom have been with PA since its inception — Costa set his sights on legislative salaries.
There is no doubt in Ted’s mind that elected officials practice a blatant confilct of interest each time they redraw district boundaries and determine their own personal compensation, including salaries and expenses. Perhaps the single most important piece of legislative reform in the evolution of the political process addresses these very issues by taking them directly to the public. Appropriately, the initiative arising from this belief and currently in circulation is called, “Let the Voters Decide.” Costa believes this one could be that next political ground swell, and, if numbers, funds and volunteers are any indication, he may just be right on the money — again.
Ted Costa is . . .
Not a power broker, political hanger-on, photo opportunist, or GQ kind of guy. He is a reformer, someone who believes that a good idea doesn’t have to be conservative or liberal, Republican or Democratic to be good. A good idea is simply one that has the support of the people. And one-third of those people who are PA members happen to be Democrats and Liberals. Ted is especially someone who can be trusted and entrusted to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, a people’s advocate, you might say.
The man may not fancy himself a politician, but he certainly does know his politics.
Update from Gravel Roads — This article was originally published in 1994. I had the privilege and honor of serving on the PA board with Ted for twelve years. He is widely acknowledged for mobilizing the successful recall of California Governor Gray Davis in 2003, the first and only successful recall in the history of the state, despite 117 previous attempts. Ted is now well into his seventies, and remains an invaluable resource for the people, the press and even the politicians.