It’s been 15 years since John Van de Kamp held public office as state
attorney general. But the 69-year-old Van de Kamp, a Democrat and avid
environmentalist who lost the 1990 gubernatorial primary to Dianne
Feinstein, has plenty to keep him busy. “I pretty much have a full-time
schedule,” he says.
For starters, he’s the new president of the board of directors of the
Planning and Conservation League, the statewide environmental advocacy
group; his new role will be officially announced shortly. He just finished a
one-year stint as president of the State Bar, and for years he was the
general counsel for the Thoroughbred Owners of California. Van de Kamp, a
former Los Angeles district attorney, also heads a local campaign finance
reform advisory group in Pasadena, where he lives with his wife, Andrea, a
former chief executive at the Music Center of Los Angeles
County. They have a grown daughter, Diana, 26, who works at the nonprofit
Kids’ Space in Pasadena.
Van de Kamp is no stranger to environmental politics, which played a role in
his 1990 political defeat. That year, Van de Kamp and his political
strategists–including Richie Ross, whose clients now include a fourth of the
Legislature–pushed for the passage of Proposition 128, the “Big Green”
initiative, and two other government-reform ballot measures. “Big Green,”
with which Van de Kamp was closely identified, would have put strict limits
on timber harvesting, air pollution, offshore oil drilling and farm
pesticides. At the time, it was described as the most ambitious
environmental protection legislation ever proposed in the nation, and it
probably was. But it was also complicated and galvanized well-heeled
opponents, especially in agriculture. In the end, voters rejected it–along
with Van de Kamp.
He has few regrets.
“I had my shot against Dianne,” Van de Kamp said in his familiar measured
tones and deep voice. “The campaign didn’t quite take. I think I was a
little bit on the dull lawyer side. I didn’t really strike the fire to
electrify the electorate, and you really need to do that.”
Van de Kamp’s daily routine “is a combination of practicing law and pro-bono
activities,” but he keeps tabs on the news of the day and the issues close
to his heart–especially environmental issues.
But he has no desire to get back into the political fray.
“I enjoyed it (public service) a lot, and I was really a sort of policy
nerd. There are a lot of things that I am able to look back on that I am
proud of,” he says.
“But I didn’t enjoy the fund-raising, continually having to go out and ask