PHOENIX — THE only state in the union that does not observe Martin Luther King's birthday will try to boost its sagging national image by once again putting the issue to public vote here Nov. 3. Twice defeated, with subsequent losses of major convention revenue and other business when many outsiders labeled the state "racist," the measure (Proposition 300) is expected to pass, according to recent polls.
Arizona voters also are expected to reject an increase in legislative salaries of about $5,000 (Prop. 301); approve setting term limits for federal and state officeholders (Prop. 107), and push through requirement of a two-thirds majority vote to raise state taxes (Prop. 108).
"Arizona's massive growth over the last decade has brought a concomitant rise in the populations wanting to control the power government has over them," says Phil Burgess, president of the Denver Center for the New West. "That means limiting taxation, limiting spending, and bringing hosts of ballot initiatives."
Arizona's 14 ballot initiatives are the most in the United States; neighboring California has 13. Two are drawing voter attention in droves, according to local analysts: a proposal that would prohibit abortion except to save a mother's life, or after rape or incest (Prop. 110), and one that would ban the use of certain traps and devices for the taking of wildlife on public lands (Prop. 200).
"The steel-trap issue is one of the most volatile ballot measures," says pollster Bruce Merrill, a professor of communications at Arizona State University. Two weeks ago, he says, voters were expected to approve the ban by a margin of 60-40. But the National Rifle Association has flooded the area with radio advertisements linking such approval with bans on fishing and hunting. Polls indicate that the outcome now is too close to call, with 45 percent favoring the initiative, 42 percent opposing it, and 13
"The ban appears headed to go down heavily," says analyst Earl DeBerge. "But the vote has become so heated it is expected to bring out more blue-collar voters, which will benefit Bill Clinton."
Arizona has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Harry Truman in 1948. Recent polls say the state is leaning toward Clinton.
Backers of the Martin Luther King holiday campaign have amassed $1 million to try to convince voters to combine Lincoln and Washington's birthdays into a single President's Day in Arizona, and create a Martin Luther King Jr./Civil Rights Day. A recent poll gave supporters a 53-to-40 percent margin, with 7 percent undecided. Local newspapers report that, though the holiday issue has far-reaching effects on the state, voters are tired of hearing about it.
Richard Marks, a black resident of Phoenix, says: "Even Blacks are burned out on the issue." The state has suffered criticism it does not deserve, he says, "but voters are going to take away that black eye Nov. 3."
One high-ranking Phoenix official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the campaign of former Gov. Evan Mecham for US senator (against incumbent Sen. John McCain and Democratic challenger Clara Sargent) is bringing voters into the process who will vote against the measure. Mr. Mecham was impeached shortly after taking office in 1988 but still has some hard-core support.