State Voters Face Range of Critical Issues Tuesday
By Bair S Walker , Senior Writer
"I never vote for anyone. I always vote against"
Voters throughout the country will encounter a rich mix of choices at the polls on Tuesday, including who will be governor of Kentucky and Mississippi. Mississippi will pick a successor to controversial Republican chief executive Kirk Fordice, a conservative, lame-duck governor whose extra-marital life grabbed more ink toward the end of his second term than his political achievements.
Replacing him will be either Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove or Republican Mike Parker, a former congressman. A 13-point lead Musgrove had over Parker in June has evaporated to the point where poll ratings for the two candidates were practically even this week.
The Magnolia State will also elect a lieutenant governor, attorney general and state auditor, in addition to commission heads overseeing state transportation, public service and insurance. Lastly, Mississippians will decide whether or not to join the 18 other states that have laid down term limits for legislators.
Kentucky is holding a four-way governor's race that incumbent Democratic Gov. Paul Patton appears to have well in hand. Mirroring the contest for Kentucky's top job, the contest for lieutenant governor also features four hopefuls.
Less dramatic are Blue Grass elections for agriculture commissioner, attorney general and secretary of state. Each contest has only one candidate.
In another state that favors off-year governor elections, pro-business Republican Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster won easily on Oct. 23, becoming the first GOP chief executive in Louisiana history to win re-election.
Maine voter interest is being stirred by two controversial initiatives on the ballot. One, a ban on late-term abortions, has Maine residents evenly divided pro and con, according to a poll this week.
The other initiative, whether to approve use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, was backed by 61 percent of respondents in a poll conducted by two television stations and a Bangor newspaper.
Maine Gov. Angus King entered the fray over late-term abortions, criticizing television stations for rejecting and censoring commercials on the fractious issue.
In Virginia, Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore hopes to see the election of a GOP-controlled legislature Tuesday for the first time since Reconstruction. His party currently controls the state Senate and needs a net gain of only two seats to control the House of Delegates as well.
Virginia's lower house "has been strongly held by the Democrats," says Tim Storey, with the National Conference of State Legislatures. "It would be significant if the Republicans took control of Virginia, because it's a Southern state that's been controlled by Democrats for decades." By August, Democrats and Republicans had raised enough money to ensure that the Nov. 2 legislative election will be the most expensive in Virginia history.
An issue that Gilmore rode into his state's governor's mansion -- an anti car-tax pledge -- will be one of the most significant issues confronting voters in the state of Washington Tuesday. Initiative 695 would eliminate the state motor vehicle excise tax and replace it with a flat $30 fee.
If Washingtonians vote for I-695, it will bring about a $750 million annual decline in state revenues. So they have to be willing to approve state and local tax and fee increases in order to push I-695 through.
Another controversial measure up for vote, Initiative 696, would further restrict non-Native American commercial fishing in Washington waters.
In neighboring Oregon, nine ballot measure will go before state residents Tuesday. One amends Oregon's constitution to allow a person to be convicted of murder by a non-unanimous jury.
Voters in Ohio, where $23.1 billion is needed for school repairs, will vote on a ballot question that would allow their state to secure low-interest loans for school construction. If approved, Issue 1 also calls on the state treasury to contribute $10.2 billion over 12 years, and would raise $12.9 billion by increasing property taxes.
New Jersey residents will be able to do something about the dilapidated bridges on their state highways by voting on a bond issue that would generate $500 million for state road improvement projects, including bridges.
In St. Paul, Minn., Mayor Norm Coleman is casting covetous eyes on the Minnesota Twins baseball team, which currently plays in neighboring Minneapolis. So, St. Paul residents will decide whether to pay a half cent more in sales tax to finance a new baseball stadium.
Another St. Paul referendum would ban the erection of billboards in the city, leading to their removal in five years.
In Texas, Lone Star state voters will have their say on 17 proposed amendments to the state constitution. Among the issues to be decided is what homeowners can do with equity in their properties. The fate of another proposed amendment will decide whether Texas provides $400 million in loans for college students.
Turnout for the last three Texas constitutional amendment elections has been less than 11 percent, so fewer than 1 million people in a state with 6.8 million registered voters are expected to vote.
On the local front, Houston will be holding elections for mayor and city council. Wrestling promoter Outlaw Josey Wales IV and newspaper publisher Jack Terence are challenging incumbent mayor Lee Brown.
Houston-area voters also will vote on a referendum asking whether a $160-million arena for the city's basketball and hockey teams should be built.
South Carolina citizens were to vote on a referendum determining whether the state would ban video poker machines. However, that decision was taken out of voters' hands shortly before the election when South Carolina's Supreme Court blocked the referendum, and let stand a law banning the games as of July 1.
North Carolina voters living in the Charlotte metropolitan area will vote on a referendum deciding whether or not tax dollars will help build a new uptown arena for the Charlotte Hornets basketball team. Also, Charlotte and Greensboro are having mayoral contests.Staff writers Tiffany Danitz, Joseph Giordono, Sunny Kaplan and Clare Nolan contributed to this story.