Critical, Whimsical Issues on California Ballot
By Proxy Author, Proxy Author for Import
SAN FRANCISCO -- The ballot for California's Mar. 7 ballot bombards Golden State voters with 20 propositions, the most that state residents have slogged through in more than a decade.
Despite its length, in many ways the ballot is classic California. It demonstrates once again that anyone with sufficient gumption -- and financial backing -- can muster enough signatures in California's initiative process to stick something on the ballot.
An example is Proposition 23, which gives voters the option of voting for "None of the Above,'' instead of listed candidates. It's sponsor is wealthy businessman Al Shugart, 69, who spent $1 million of his own money to get Prop. 23 on the ballot and who entered his dog, Ernest, in a congressional race in 1996.
There's a ballot measure delivering a tax cut for smokers. Specifically, Proposition 28 repeals a 50-cents-per-pack cigarette tax that voters okayed in November 1998.
Proposition 25 takes another stab at limiting campaign contributions and has earned the distinction of being opposed by business and labor. Another well-off businessman, Palo Alto software millionaire Ron Unz, is the driving force behind Prop. 25, which sets contribution limits at $5,000 for statewide candidates, $3,000 for other candidates, $25,000 for political parties and establishes a $50,000 cap per election.
Of course there's the usual wedge issue. This year it's Proposition 22, which guarantees California won't recognize same sex marriages.
Wedge issues are becoming a rich California tradition. In 1994, it was illegal immigrants responsible for the state's economic woes. Then, welfare recipients, then affirmative action laws.
Seeking a proposition aimed at special interest groups? Proposition 30 focuses on insurers and trial lawyers waging multi-million dollar war against each other. Prop. 30 affirms 1999 legislation allowing injured accident victims to sue an at-fault party's insurance company for failing to act in good faith to settle a claim.
Insurers and trial lawyers also squared off against each other 12 years ago in November 1988, when California's ballot had 29 propositions.
This year's ballot is "typical in the sense it's very crowded and there are a lot of long and confusing measures that will be confronting the state's voters,'' says Mark Baldassare, survey director for the Public Policy Institute of California.
"But amidst all of this ballot clutter there are some state propositions that are pretty critical to the state's future,'' Baldassare adds.
Proposition 26 would lower the approval threshold for local school bonds from two-thirds to a simple majority. If it passes, that event would mark the first time Californians have thumbed their noses in a meaningful way at Proposition 13, the landmark property tax-cutting initiative of 1978.
"It will be interesting to see if economic good times and the public's desire for more funds for education will outweigh Proposition 13, which has become sort of the third rail of politics,'' says Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll.
California's Native American population is monitoring Proposition 1A, which would expand the amount of gambling allowed on Indian lands.
For years, tribes with casinos have conducted Vegas-style slot machine wagering, in violation of state law. Proposition 1A not only allows them to keep existing operations, but increase them. Some experts warn that Prop 1A could lead to California having more slot machines than Nevada.
One of the sleepers on the ballot is Proposition 21, which would make major changes in the state's juvenile justice system.
However, with voters indicating for the first time in 20 years that crime isn't a Top 5 issue, polls show Prop 21 doesn't have the support it needs. Opponents include some judges, probation officers and defense lawyers who claim the measure is draconian, would limit judicial discretion, would send more 14 year olds to adult prisons and runs counter to the juvenile justice system's goal of rehabilitation.
Supporters, led by district attorneys, say the changes mandated by Prop. 21 would still leave plenty of judicial authority and save scarce juvenile court money by making it easier to try more violent felons as adults.
Proposition 22 is what its supporters call the Defense of Marriage Act. It simply states that California shall legally recognize only marriages between a man and a woman, which is already state law.
Opponents say the measure is divisive and designed more to stir emotion than solve a problem. No state in the country allows same sex marriage.
Polls show the measure ahead.
Proposition 27 would allow congressional candidates to voluntarily accept term limits. Candidates who accept limits could tout that fact in voter guides.
Five bonds are on the ballot and their passage would represent a vote of confidence in California's fiscal climate, because voters tend to approve bonds in good economic times and defeat them when the economy is bad.
Up for vote is a $2.1 billion bond issue to buy and improve state and local parks, and a $1.9 billion bond issue to pay for a series of projects improving water quality, conservation and neighboring habitat.
The ballot also includes a $350 million bond issue for capital improvements to libraries, a $220 million bond issue for forensic crime labs and a $50 million bond issue for veteran's homes.