Howard Jarvis says he has never been really depressed in his entire life. Not once. Ever. No.

"Well, I was depressed once," he says, leaning back into the sofa of his hotel suite and puffing contentedly on his pipe. "I lost $300,000 in one week. But I got over it. I have no reason to get depressed. What the hell. When you're 75 years old and you can still get out of bed in the morning, you've got it made."

Right now Howard Jarvis certainly has no reason to be depressed. He has just had the kind of victory most people only dream about in their lives. He has just seen his baby, Proposition 13, the property tax cut in California, voted in by a 2-1 margin by the California electorate.

He has just had his picture on the cover of Times magazine. He has just been a guest on "Meet the Press." And now he is in Washington this week to meet with at least 10 high-powered senators and representives to talk about Proposition 13 and to speak at the National Press Club.

"I've been called a right-wing extremist, a gadfly, a tax advocate, a demagogue, an anarchist and a populist. They're all true in a way," says Jarvis, though later he will insist that, "I'm not a right winger. I'm a constitutionalist."

Howard Jarvis, monomaniacal proponent of fewer taxes, a Don Quixote figure who for 15 years has been battling political windmills to get his tax cuts, a good old boy who slaps men on the back, and pinches and winks at the gals . . .

Howard Jarvis, a right winger who has abandoned most of the causes his political peers have espoused in favor of the all important TAXES, a demagogue manque with more patience than most . . .

Howard Jarvis, a populist whose concern for the people has left a slightly sour taste in a lot of mouths, even as the effects of Proposition 13 sweep the country with amazing rapidity.

It all happened so fast that nobody really had time to find out just who Howard Jarvis was and why he had been so effective. Ask many Californians and they will laugh about him. A buffon whose time has come, they will say. But always with some affection. Good old Howard; just a lot of concern. Maybe a reactionary but he's honest. And he always leaves 'em laughing.

Or does he?

Just like Lonesome Rhodes, the character Andy Griffith played in the movie "A Face in the Crowd," Howard Jarvis knows how to win an audience, work a crowd, disarm a detractor. He understands how devastatingly effective a little self-deprecating humor can be, a little cornpone, a few grammatical errors, the odd admission of guilt, the occasional homespun joke or anecdote.

For many of his 75 years Howard Jarvis has wanted fame, power, success. He didn't give up. Now he's got it.

"You know," he said on "Meet The Press" Sunday, "they called Edison a nut because he said he was going to produce some lights out of silk thread in a bottle and when somebody pushed the button and the lights came on he wasn't a nut any more. And that's what happened. What I told the people of California for 15 years finally came true and at first they didn't believe it."

But good old Howard Jarvis believes it. And he likes it up there.

"It's nice. It's nice, it's nice," he repeats over and over. "It's nice to get all this publicity. It's nice. I don't know anybody that hasn't got a little ego. When everybody says you can't do it. When it's the impossible dream and all of a sudden you do it. It's nice."

It's little things like this that keep Howard Jarvis happy. And even for a man who never gets depressed, it doesn't hurt.

"In life you're either happy or unhappy," says Jarvis. "Most people take small problems and build them into depressions."

It's not that he hasn't had his ups and downs either. In fact he lost two wives, one to a heart attack and one to a brain tumor which kept her sick for 11 years before she died.

"I guess I have to back up a little," he says, crossing one white ankle over his knee. "Maybe that did depress me."

Howard Jarvis has talked a lot about Proposition 13 in the last week or so since it's passage in California. He's been interviewed to death about it. And there's no question that he plans to continue his crusade around the country visiting other states and telling them how it's done, how the taxpayers can revolt against big government and big taxes.

But that's not all he thinks about, especially now that's he won, though whenever he feels uncomfortable about something, he brings the conversation back to taxes.

Before Proposition 13 carried, Howard and Jarvis was accessible, would talk to anybody about anything, never worried about being controversial and didn't care what he said.

Before Proposition 13 that familar J. Edgar Hoover face was everywhere, glad-handing, soliciting, espousing his point of view. Never mind that much of what he said was so much political gobbledygook, that he hadn't really given much thought to the effects of Proposition 13, that when you finished listening to him talk you might well be more confused than before.

When you asked him questions he cleverly avoided answering them like the old professional politician he is. Never mind. When asked on "Meet the Press" if he knew what the effect of Proposition 13 would be, he answered with cool unconcern: "Well, that's what happened when they wrote the Constitution of the United States. Nobody knew what it was going to be. We know one thing it is going to be; it's going to cut the taxes in California, and that it the objectives."

That was before Proposition 13. Now Howard Jarvis must be more careful, more circumspect. Now Howard Jarvis is a star . . .

One thing he's not uncomfortable talking about is women. He loves them. Just ask him.

"I think women are the greatest creation on the face of the earth," he says. "They have more love and compassion and loyalty than men." Still, he's against women's liberation.

"I think it's a mistake. I don't want to see it equal. If it's equal they'll start dying 10 years younger the way men do and I don't want to see it. I'm very fond of women."

Howard Jarvis has this theory. At first he's reluctant to tell it. But finally, cajoled, he agrees. "This is going to surprise you," he says. "I think 90 percent of the trouble between men and women is the man's fault," he says. "The man has an ego which doesn't let him take advantage of what the woman has to offer. He could develop a woman into exactly what he wants but his ego prevents him to know her or to learn. His ego prevents him from understanding what a prize he has if only he'd take care of it. Then communications break down and it leaves the woman in desperation and the man in ignorance."

"It is at this point," explains Jarvis triumphantly, "that women get so unhappy they need to go out and get a job."

"I'd rather have a gal on the pedestal, m'self," he say.

He believes that women have "emotional and physical handicaps" which would make it dfficult for them to rise to the top in the world of industry. "And I don't want to see women put in a tough position," he says. "I dont' want to see women jumping out of planes, carrying footballs and digging ditches, I don't like that."

Jarvis is now on his third marriage, which he claims in a great success because, "The secret of sucess is to understand what a woman is. That doesn't mean I'm a genius. I've just never had these problems . . . I never give any of them a rough time, I never had any trouble with 'em. You have got to open doors for women."

And if his wife wanted to work?

He pauses, then with a remarkable lack of enthusaism: "I'd say great." He ponders that one. "She don't need to. I don't like it. If you marry a gal you are supposed to take care of her. I don't think you could drag my wife to work with a bulldozer."

"She's a hell of a gal. I couldn't do without her. For 15 years she's been worth 10 carloads of platinum."

One thing Howard Jarvis can't stand is the so-called new morality. "You can call it new but you sure can't call it morality," he said. "It's like they had in the old days. In Rome. It brought down the fall of the nation . . . it creates in most men the desire for several women when they can't take care of one." He laughs, rather pleased with this one. Then takes a pensive puff on his pipe. "Well, I don't know. I'm not an expert."

"The stewardesses on the plane seemed to be pretty hot for you," teased his media man, Arnold Forde.

"Yeah," he acknowledged. "Wasn't that something?" Then slightly dejected (never depressed), he says, "No. They're only hot from the neck up . . . I kissed all the stewardesses on the cheek. It was a thrill for me. But not for them . . . if you can have a thrill at my age."

This is pretty racy talk for someone who was brought up a strict Mormon in Utah. But Jarvis, in his climb upward, his many political races, both in Utah and California, his many different successful careers in business and his active retirement as The Tax Man, has been corrupted.

Gone are the days when he didn't drink even coffee, tea or Cokes because of the caffeine. Gone are the days when he didn't smoke, didn't play golf on Sundays, didn't swear. "I guess I'm just not that good," he says sheepishly. "I guess I'm the only black sheep in the family."

He peers meaningfully over his steel-rimmed glasses. "But black," he says, "is very popular these days."

Behind Howard Jarvis' spiel there emerges one true message. Freedom of the middle class. His code words light up in neon, about as subtle as George Wallace.

"Well," he says on "Meet The Press," "we think that the people who own homes in the United States are the most important people in this country."

"We think that the most important thing in this country is to preserve the right to own private property because it is the No. 1 extension of human rights in the United States . . . So many countries we are trying to cozy up to don't have property rights . . . And the people who wrote the Constitution of the United States said the people of the U.S. shall be protected in their life, liberty and property. They didn't say, life, liberty and welfare, or life, liberty and food stamps."

And later, during an interview: "I think welfare is a narcotic in this country. It will eventually destroy the country. To put welfare in the property tax is absolutely an abortion. A lot of people in this country are paying for welfare through property taxes when they don't have enough food to live on in their house. It should be that a guy can go home, shut the front door and tell the rest of the world to go to hell. Freedom is the name of the game."

In the same vein, he says, "I think affirmative action is a bad program. It is discrimination in reverse. If you put somebody who doesn't have the ability in a job and pay them taxpayers' money it's not a good thing. The best affirmative action is tax cuts," he mutters to himself.

"How would you like it," he says, sitting up now, jabbing the air with his cigar, "if you got fired so some black could take your job?"

If there is one public enemy besides big government itself, which is No. 1 in Howard Jarvis' mind, it might well be the press itself.

"The press is the general ally of big government and big labor," he says authoritatively. "There's an alliance there. The press is living off the establishment. Thy're big corporations. It's not a free press.They play the game the only way they can. I believe in the First Amendment but the press don't. You could write stories and The Post wouldn't print them. I've known reporters who've written stories and their editors have suppressed them."

Part of his anger at the press stems in part from the treatment of Richard Nixon.

"Well," says Jarvis about Nixon, "I like him. Well, I know him. I like him as a president.I thought he did great things. He got us out Kennedy's war in Vietnam (Jarvis admits he had been in favor of the war). And he thinks Nixon was no more guilty than Truman, Kennedy or Johnson in his actions.

"Kennedy and Johnson had lots of young fellows around their governments that got them in trouble. Nixon did it. Now Carter's done it . . . . If Nixon had fired everybody the day after there'd have been no Watergate."

As far as whether Nixon lied or not, well, Howard Jarvis is simply not prepared to say. "I'm not in the political world," explains the man who has been running for offices - and losing - for the major part of his life. (His first race was for state legislator in Utah when he was in his 20s; his final race was last year, when he ran for mayor of Los Angeles).

"Political ethics and character are different from private ethics and character."

Is he a good politician?

"No," he says as the smoke wafts hazily about his face. "I tell the truth too much."