From abortion rights to redwood forests, voters used ballot initiatives to protest the intervention of government in a range of areas.
The immediate targets of the referendum revolt in Tuesday's elections were stewards of government -- entrenched politicians in California, Colorado and Kansas City, Mo., whose terms in office were limited by voters in those jurisdictions.
But environmental initiatives -- including California's "Big Green," which would have required a major expansion of the state government's power to protect endangered areas, regulate chemicals and increase spending -- also fell victim to what some analysts said was a general public cynicism.
"People are extremely cynical about the government's ability to deliver results for the money being spent," said Sheldon Kamieniecki, associate professor of political science at the University of Southern California who specializes in voter behavior. "The disillusionment is being expressed in the ballot questions."
Kamieniecki said a good test of anti-spending sentiment was the way Californians distinguished between measures seeking to cap the terms of state politicians. While 52 percent of voters approved the initiative setting an eight-year limit on statewide elected officials, a similar proposition that would have provided some public campaign financing lost by nearly 2 to 1.
Voters upheld the rights of women to have abortions in Oregon and Nevada. The Oregon measure, which would have created the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the nation, lost 2 to 1. A parental notification measure lost by a similar ratio. The Nevada referendum, affirming the state's abortion-rights law, was approved.
Although Californians rejected virtually every proposition requiring government spending and Oregonians approved a 1.5 percent ceiling on the property tax rate, voters elsewhere were more conservative in attacking public spending.
A radical, $2 billion a year tax-cut proposal in Massachusetts, which would have been the largest voter-initiated state tax cut in history, lost. The initiative would have reduced the state's budget by nearly 15 percent and was criticized by opponents as a threat to basic public services, such as day care, education, law enforcement and programs for the elderly.
"In the end, people thought it was crazy to simply tear everything apart," said Paul Watanabe, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts.
For environmentalists, the election was seen as a chance to exploit the momentum of Earth Day last April and force government through the ballot box to extend protections of natural resources and the public health. But key initiatives on both coasts carried big price tags that analysts believe contributed to their defeats.
In New York State, voters rejected by 51 percent to 49 percent a $2 billion bond issue intended to buy land threatened by development -- including watersheds considered vital to protect New York City's water supply -- and respond to the burgeoning problem of trash by closing landfills and establishing recycling programs. Although the measure had the backing of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (D) and major environmental groups, its prospects were dimmed by the state's deteriorating fiscal condition in recent months.
California's "Big Green" initiative provided the biggest test for environmentalists, who turned the nation's most populous state into a laboratory to see how far residents were willing to go to rid society of pollutants. But the complex, 16,000-word initiative was so sweeping that it inspired a wide range of opponents.
Proposition 128, as it was called, would have banned all farm pesticides known to cause cancer in laboratory animals, phased out chemicals that deplete the atmosphere's protective ozone layer and limited the emissions of global warming gases from cars and power plants. It also called for protection of old-growth redwood trees, a virtual prohibition on oil drilling within three miles of shore and establishment of a $500 million fund raised from oil companies to pay for oil spill prevention and cleanup.
Despite its defeat by 63 percent of voters, supporters view Big Green's loss as a sign of public distrust in government regulation, not a rejection of the environmental causes. As evidence, they cite the loss of other initiatives on the ballot that were sponsored by industry and would have weakened environmental laws.
"Californians voted the 'Big No,' " said Lawrie Mott, a leader in the Big Green campaign. ". . . The negative mood about the status quo makes them skeptical to the point of rejecting everything."
The revolt against public officials produced the biggest vote-getter on the Colorado ballot, a measure to impose a 12-year limit on the terms of U.S. senators and representatives and eight consecutive years for statewide elected officials. And Kansas City voters restricted city council members and the mayor to two consecutive, four-year terms.
The abortion-rights battle in Oregon centered on a measure, rejected by 2 to 1, that would have banned abortions except in the event of rape or incest or when the woman's life was at risk. Another measure that would have required doctors to notify a parent at least two days before performing an abortion on a minor also was overwhelmingly defeated.
The victorious Nevada referendum, pushed by abortion-rights forces, prohibits any change without direct vote of a 17-year-old state law that grants women the right to terminate pregnancy during the first 24 weeks.