With the presidential primary campaign here seen as largely anticlimactic, most of the political heat generated in California this spring has come from high-priced, often bitter, struggles over three state ballot measures.
The initiatives -- Proposition 9, 10, and 11 on the Tuesday ballot -- concern taxation and rent control, economic issues of interests to California voters and the state's powerful financial community.
Proposition 9, the Howard Jarvis plan to halve state income taxes, has fostered perhaps the season's hardest hitting campaign. Over $3 million has been spent by supporters of Proposition 9, more than twice the combined budgets of the Carter, Kennedy and Reagan campaigns here.
After big early leads, Proposition 9, popularly known as Jaws II, has fallen far behind. The opposition led by 26 percentage points, according to the most recent survey conducted by California pollster Mervin Field.
The Jaws II campaign has been stymied in large part by a sophisticated $1.5 million media-oriented campaign by the anti-9 Citizens for California, which has appealed to economic populism by charging that the Jarvis measure would benefit predominantly wealthy taxpayers at the expense of crucial government services for the poor and middle class.
Proposition 9 spokesman Harvey Englander believes there is still time for Jarvis to rally the same middle-class, antigovernment sentiment that led to the overwhelming passage of his Proposition 13 measure in June 1978.
Economic populism is also a key factor in the Propositions 10 and 11 campaigns, according to Jack Mcdowell, a consultant on the well-financed drives in favor of 10 and opposed to 11. Pro. 10, a measure to curtail rent control, is backed by real estate interests, while 11, a proposed tax on big oil companies, is being hotly contested with large contributions from the companies.
"Out opposition in both campaigns has been largely emotional," said McDowell. "They are taking advantage of a populist wave among the people who don't love oil companies and don't love landlords."
McDowell has been particularly frustrated in his effort to promote 10, which would ban any attempt to impose statewide rent control and would strictly regulate current rent control in such cities as San Francisco, Berkeley, Santa Monica and Los Angeles.
McDowell refuses to say how much will be spent on the Proposition 10 drive but pledges the total will be somewhere under $8 million. Proposition 10 ads suggest that initiative is needed to spur the anemic housing industry here, which, they allege, has been discouraged by the increasing tendency toward strict rent control.
The opposition to Prop. 10 has come largely from a rag-tag collection of tenant groups with a budget estimated at $150,000. They have enlisted such notables as actor Henry Fonda, California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley to discredit the measure as a "fraudulent" landlord-sponsored attempt to undermine rent control.
With Prop 10 now trailing the most recent Field poll by 22 points, the coordinator of the opposition, Park Skelton, believes the appeal to anti-landlord sentiment has been successful.
Major business interests, mostly oil companies, also are investing heavily in a campaign to defeat Proposition 11, which is designed to raise between $125 million and $200 million a year from a surcharge on major oil company income. The funds would help finance rapid transit and alternative energy projects in the state.
Over $4.4 million has already been raised for a massive media campaign aimed at characterizing Prop 11 as a "string" that would create a bureaucratic nightmare, discourage oil production and cost California jobs. Support for the Prop 11 has fallen from nearly 40 percent in February to a still sizable 16-point lead in the latest Field poll. Almost a fifth of the voters, according to Field, are still undecided.
Prop 11 author Bill Press, former director of planning and research for Gov. Brown, has raised $275,000 to promote the initiative. He accuses the major oil companies of trying to mislead the public in order to protect soaring profits.
Jim Woods, executive vice president of the California Oil Producers Association which represents 600, mostly small companies, said any large surcharge on major oil companies would depress the major need for new wells and exploration, a key to many small oil companies' operations. "Everyone will want to drill in Texas and Louisiana instead if this thing passes," Woods said. "People don't understand this business.But all Proposition 11 people have to do is get on TV for 30 seconds and say "tax big oil" and they probably have it won."