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Archive for Thursday, November 7, 2002

Cautious voters reject propositions

November 7, 2002

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In state after state, voters shot down ambitious proposals that grass-roots activists and reform movements had labored to place on the ballot. The voters' mood, one expert said Wednesday, favored caution and the status quo.

Three states rejected proposals to relax drug laws; two defeated Election Day voter registration. Oregon's often adventuresome voters turned down chances to make their state the first with mandatory labeling of genetically modified food and health insurance for all citizens.

Even in Berkeley, Calif., a longtime hotbed of political experimentation, voters dumped cold water on a proposal that would have required local shops to sell environmentally or socially correct coffee.

"Voters are being cautious because of what they're hearing from their elected officials," said Dane Waters, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute. "They voted to maintain the status quo more than anything else."

Of the 202 measures on statewide ballots Tuesday, 53 were placed there through citizen petition drives. Twenty-four of those citizen initiatives prevailed, but most of the high-profile measures lost.

Losers included three proposals backed by a national alliance of drug-law reformers a Nevada measure to legalize possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana, an Arizona initiative that would have likened pot possession to a traffic violation, and an Ohio proposal that would have required judges to order treatment instead of jail for many drug offenders.

"We're not the loosey-goosey swinging state they think we are," said one of the leading foes of the Nevada marijuana measure, Washoe County Dist. Atty. Dick Gammick. "We are basically a conservative state with hardworking people."

Drug reformers blamed their setbacks partly on the active role played by the Bush administration in opposing their measures. In past elections, federal officials have rarely campaigned against state ballot measures.

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger leaves a polling station after voting
in the Pacific Palisades section of Los Angeles. Voters passed an
education proposition championed by Schwarzenegger, which would
allocate as much as $550 million in existing school money to
before- and after-school programs.

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger leaves a polling station after voting in the Pacific Palisades section of Los Angeles. Voters passed an education proposition championed by Schwarzenegger, which would allocate as much as $550 million in existing school money to before- and after-school programs.

"We need to sit down and take a deep breath and take a look at how we can present the facts in a way people can understand," said Bruce Mirkin, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Drug reformers found some consolation in municipal results. San Francisco voters authorized a feasibility study for a medical marijuana distribution program; in the District of Columbia, voters approved a treatment-instead-of-jail measure for minor drug offenses.

Other failures

In addition to drug reform, two other national reform movements hit roadblocks.

Though six states already allow voters to register at the polls on Election Day, residents of Colorado and California defeated measures to join that group. In both states, opponents warned of voting fraud.

On the education front, Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz suffered his first setback in his crusade to eliminate bilingual education. His proposal to replace it with a one-year English immersion program triumphed in Massachusetts, but was defeated in Colorado.

That broke a winning streak for the English-immersion movement that began in California in 1996 and continued in Arizona two years ago.

Other citizen initiatives that failed Tuesday include measures to toughen animal cruelty penalties in Arkansas, raise cigarette taxes in Missouri and abolish the state income tax in Massachusetts.

Voters were skeptical of proposals to raise taxes for highway and transit projects. Even with a promise of less traffic congestion, they rejected a proposed gasoline tax hike in Washington state and sales tax increases in two regions of Virginia. In Florida's Miami-Dade County, however, voters approved a half-cent sales tax for transit.

Some successes

Among the successful citizen initiatives were a ban on cockfighting in Oklahoma and two measures in Florida one to ban smoking in restaurants and other workplaces, the second to limit class sizes in public schools. Republican Gov. Jeb Bush had opposed the class-size measure, saying it was too costly.

Another education initiative to spend $550 million annually on after-school programs won in California thanks to the patronage of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"My hope is, as goes California, so goes the rest of our nation," said Schwarzenegger, touted by some Republicans as a future candidate for governor.

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