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  •   Wide Variety of Issues for Voters in 16 States

    The Ballot Battle

    By David S. Broder
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, November 3, 1998; Page A9

    Voters in 16 states will pass judgment today on 61 ballot initiatives and referenda, ranging from a billboard ban in Alaska to broad campaign finance reform measures in Massachusetts and Arizona.

    The number is down from 1996, said M. Dane Waters, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute, but the percentage likely to pass is way up.

    Perhaps the most important vote in terms of its national implications is the Washington state initiative banning use of race or gender preferences in government hiring and contracting and in university admissions.

    Opponents say the measure -- copied from one that passed in California two years ago -- would cripple affirmative action programs and encourage similar moves in Congress and other states. It held a narrow 50 percent to 41 percent lead in the last public poll, but both sides said the outcome is in doubt.

    The most expensive battle -- with spending on both sides totaling perhaps $100 million -- has been the California fight over Indian gambling. It pits several Southern California tribes fighting for the right to install slot machines and video poker games in their reservation casinos against Las Vegas hotel casinos that are eager to keep their huge California clientele from wagering more of their money at home. Late polls indicated the tribes -- who have far outspent their opponents -- are in a position to win.

    Others who may do well in today's voting, if pre-election polls are correct, include animal rights advocates, backers of measures to legalize medical use of marijuana and organized labor. A measure to legalize physician-assisted suicide is headed for defeat in Michigan. A ban on late-term abortions is favored in Colorado but looks chancy in Washington.

    The unions are poised to pass an initiative to raise the minimum wage in Washington and to defeat an Oregon measure that would end the dues checkoff for teachers and other state employees. If the Oregon "paycheck protection" initiative goes down, as a similar measure did in California on last June's primary ballot, it would mark a year of failure for a once-heralded conservative drive to curb the political power of organized labor.

    The animal rights groups -- among the very few that can muster enough volunteer help to qualify initiatives without paid signature-gatherers -- are backing measures in five states. They expect success on California initiatives banning fur-trapping and the slaughter of horses, an Arizona ban on cockfighting and a Missouri prohibition on any form of animal fighting. Tougher sledding faces measures banning wolf-trapping in Alaska and the hunting of mourning doves in Ohio.

    The marijuana measures -- which allow physicians to prescribe the drug for terminal patients or those suffering effects of treatments for cancer, AIDS and other diseases, are on the ballot in Alaska, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. The forerunner was passed in California in 1996. They lead everywhere, but polls indicate the outcome may be close in Nevada and in Washington, the latter being a state where voters earlier rejected a broader drug-legalization measure.

    In Arizona, the state legislature last year passed legislation essentially negating a 1996 voter initiative that not only approved medical marijuana but ended the jailing of people on the first two arrests for possession of a variety of drugs. Critics of the "war on drugs," notably financier George Soros, have raised $1.6 million for a referendum on the legislation and polls indicate their "no" position may prevail, in effect reinstating the 1996 voters' verdict. Those on the other side have reported contributions of only $44,000.

    Soros also has contributed to groups supporting "Clean Election" initiatives that are favored in Massachusetts and Arizona. The Arizona measure would provide public financing to candidates for state office who receive a specified number of $5 contributions -- 200 for a state representative, 4,000 for governor -- and who accept voluntary spending limits. Public financing would come from a 10 percent surcharge on criminal fines and civil penalties, increased lobbyist registration fees and tax credits for voluntary small campaign contributions. The Massachusetts initiative is similar, but would go into effect in 2002 only if money is appropriated by the legislature.

    Two smaller states, Maine and Vermont, passed public financing measures in 1996, and proponents hope to use further successes to build pressure on Congress to overhaul federal election finance laws, something it has been very reluctant to do for the past two decades.

    The Washington initiative on preferences or affirmative action has been promoted and largely financed by a foundation led by Ward Connerly, a University of California regent and African American who led the successful fight for a similar measure in his home state. Opposition has come from women's and civil rights groups, with financial backing from Microsoft Corp., Boeing Co. and several other major employers.

    Initiative 200 commanded clear majorities in early polls, although those numbers dropped when respondents were informed of the opponents' contention that it would jeopardize affirmative action outreach programs. In the final stages of the campaign, the opposition has publicized statements from celebrities, including Coretta Scott King, widow of the civil rights leader, and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, daughter of the late president.

    Proponents, who have been badly outspent, closed the campaign with an ad invoking an earlier-generation civil rights issue, busing. As the names of groups opposed to the current initiative -- ranging from the NAACP to the League of Women Voters -- scroll by on the screen, a female narrator reminds viewers, "This isn't the first time they've come together. These are the same special interests that pushed Seattle schoolchildren into forced busing. Forced busing divided us by race. Government quotas divide us today. I-200 prohibits government quotas and discrimination in hiring and university admissions. Vote for equality. Not quotas."

    Michelle Ackermann, director of the No on 200 campaign, called the ad "plainly racist" and said their private tracking polls indicated it had not halted the steady decline in the initiative's support. Other sources said those polls showed support for I-200 has dropped below 50 percent, leaving the fate of the measure in the hands of the undecided, who tend to vote no on measures where they are uncertain.

    In addition to the gambling fight in California, a "boats in moats" measure backed by riverboat gamblers in Missouri, whose crafts are essentially landlocked, appears to have a healthy lead.

    The same is true for an Oregon initiative that would have all future elections conducted entirely by mail. But an education measure, backed by California Gov. Pete Wilson (R), appears to be falling victim to an opposition campaign heavily financed by the teachers' unions.

    Staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.

    © Copyright The Washington Post Company

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