Pregnant pigs were winners, pot smokers were losers, Arnold Schwarzenegger may have launched a political career, and the late Cesar Chavez's memory took a drubbing Tuesday as voters around the nation made up their minds on a rich variety of ballot initiatives and referendums.
Despite the sagging economy, voters proved willing to increase taxes and public spending at the local level. The National Conference of State Legislatures reported that 21 of 24 statewide bond measures for schools, transit and infrastructure projects were approved, including the largest in history -- California's plan to spend about $13 billion for school construction.
Hundreds of city and county bond issues also passed. Proposals to cut taxes in Massachusetts and Arkansas were firmly rejected.
National interest groups that have used the initiative process to advance their goals state-by-state had mixed results on Tuesday.
After a series of victories in the previous three election cycles, advocates of relaxing U.S. drug laws had a tough year in 2002. A proposal to legalize the possession and use of marijuana was soundly defeated in Nevada.
Arizonans refused to approve the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and South Dakota voters rejected two measures that might have made it easier to grow and use pot.
Voters in Ohio turned down a proposal to require treatment, rather than criminal penalties, for nonviolent drug users -- although a similar measure passed by a large margin in the District. Treating drug use as a medical rather than a criminal problem has become standard policy in Western Europe, and the idea seemed to be gathering momentum in the United States until the Ohio vote came in on Tuesday.
"We had been cruising along the past four years, winning 17 of 19 ballot measures," noted Ethan Nadleman, director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a well-funded group working to ease drug laws. "This year, we hit some bumps in the road. But we'll keep working with legislatures, and we will probably have more measures on state ballots in 2004."
M. Dane Waters, who tracks direct democracy trends for the Leesburg-based Initiative and Referendum Institute, said a key reason for the rejection of drug-law relaxation measures on Tuesday was the active campaign by the Bush administration's drug control policy adviser, John Walters, to defeat the Nevada, Ohio, and Arizona proposals.
The Drug Policy Alliance criticized Walters's involvement. "It's not even clear that it is legal for them to spend federal money to campaign on state issues, but he fought hard," Nadleman said.
The national animal rights movement, another regular participant in the initiative process, had a generally successful night on Tuesday. Movement leaders were crowing yesterday about the success of their effort to ban cockfighting in Oklahoma. That proposal had been rejected repeatedly by the state legislature, but passed with 56 percent of the vote when residents had a chance to decide the matter for themselves.
The more far-reaching animal rights victory on Tuesday came in Florida, where voters approved a measure banning the caging of pregnant pigs. Such "gestation cages" are widely used in the pork industry. Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States said: "[We] expect to put this measure on several more state ballots in the future."
But the animal rights movement had a setback in Arkansas. By a 2 to 1 ratio, voters turned down a proposal to upgrade the crime of cruelty to animals from misdemeanor to felony status. In a campaign that would presumably be used against the same proposal in other states, opponents of the tougher law argued that it could make hunters or people setting out rat traps liable for felony convictions.
Tuesday was also a good news, bad news kind of night for the national movement seeking to ban bilingual education in public schools -- that is, the practice of using an immigrant student's native language in the classroom until the student masters English.
California millionaire Ron Unz and his "English for the Children" organization had enjoyed a perfect record, winning approval by more than 60 percent of voters in both California and Arizona for ballot measures requiring immigrant children to take all classes in English -- and permitting lawsuits against teachers who use a student's native language.
On Tuesday, Unz's English-immersion measure passed by more than 70 percent in Massachusetts. But in Colorado, the same proposal was defeated by a 2 to 1 ratio after opponents there crafted a message that could be used by supporters of bilingual education in other states.
Colorado supporters of bilingual classes formed a group called "English Plus" and warned in TV ads that students who don't know English would be thrown into the same classroom as native English speakers if the English-only measure passed. That would slow the education of "your children," the ads said -- a message aimed at the English-speaking majority.
A closely fought education issue in Florida, requiring schools to cut the number of students per class -- to a maximum of 18 in lower grades, and 25 in high school -- was approved 52 percent to 48 percent. That measure became a key issue in the state's gubernatorial election. Gov. Jeb Bush (R) opposed the plan, trumping his Democratic challenger, Bill McBride, in a televised debate when he challenged McBride to explain how the state could pay for the additional classrooms and teachers the measure would require.
In an open-mike incident, Bush was overheard saying that he would find a "devious plan" to undermine the class-size measure if it passed. Yesterday, Bush said he will seek advice on how to put the plan in place by talking with school districts, the Education Department and the teachers union
Californians approved an innovative education proposal requiring public schools to provide after-hours programs for students. The most outspoken champion of that measure was the "action hero" actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who toured the state promoting the plan -- and, possibly, promoting his own nascent hopes to run for governor there in four years.
At a victory party for the after-school measure Tuesday night, Schwarzenegger thrilled state Republicans by moving his most famous movie line to the political stage. "I'll be back," the Terminator said.
Another well-known Californian, the late Hispanic labor leader Cesar Chavez, fared less well. Colorado and New Mexico, states with sizable Hispanic populations, had measures on the ballot to create a legal holiday in Chavez's honor in late March each year. In Colorado, 82 percent of voters opposed the idea; in New Mexico, 62 percent voted "No."
As usual, Oregon was a particularly fertile field for the seeds of direct democracy this year, but voters there rejected the most ambitious measures. By nearly 2 to 1, Oregonians decided not to create a universal health care plan for every resident, and they rejected a proposal requiring the labeling of any food made with genetically modified crops. But they did approve, narrowly, a measure that will raise the minimum wage in the state to $6.90, the nation's highest.
Arguably the most innovative idea on any state ballot this year was North Dakota's Amendment 3, designed to deal with the enduring problem of "out-migration" that has made North Dakota the nation's slowest-growing state for several decades. The ballot measure would have provided a reward of up to $10,000 for any college graduate who would stay in the state for five years.
Last summer, polls showed that the bounty plan was extremely popular among North Dakotans. But then the governor and other Republican leaders started asking questions about how much the measure would cost. In the end, the frugal voters of that windswept high-plains state voted by a healthy margin against the proposal.