A GIANT step forward for term limits, a small step backward for gay rights. ``No'' to a sweeping plan for school choice, ``yes'' to a new concept to keep violent criminals behind bars. A split decision on limiting taxes.
America's populist reformers are sifting through tallies from Tuesday's high-profile initiative battles to glean lessons and hone their battle plans for 1994. In six states and dozens of county and municipal contests, voters voiced their concerns on hotly contested propositions that signaled their disgust with politics as usual. (Other results, Page 3.)
``The people have spoken,'' says Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. ``These votes showed that activists of every stripe are increasing their attacks on the status quo across the political spectrum. The populist reform movement is growing.''
Perhaps the major theme underlined by the elections was continued public zeal to limit terms of office for politicians at all levels. Besides big wins for term limits in the state of Maine and New York City, smaller cities and counties went for them, as well: Hilliard, Ohio; Monroe and Suffolk Counties in New York State; the city of Downey, Calif.
``The issue is winning in all demographic groups, at all political levels, election after election,'' says Paul Jacob, executive director of US Term Limits, a Washington, D.C.-based group. ``The New York City win sends the message as never before that this is not just a conservative issue.''
The Big Apple will now limit City Council members, the mayor, borough presidents, the comptroller, and the public advocate to two consecutive four-year terms. ``The people were fed up with careerist politicians,'' says John Buttrazzi, executive director of New Yorkers for Term Limits. ``They saw soaring taxes, bloated bureaucracy, runaway spending, and deteriorating services and said ... no more.''
Perhaps the most widely watched statewide initiative in the country - California's Proposition 174 - failed by a large margin. The measure, which would have provided taxpayer-funded vouchers to students to attend the school of their choice, was opposed by a broad base, ranging from GOP Gov. Pete Wilson to the powerful California Teachers' Association. Several observers say voters rejected the law as poorly written and too risky, but not the notion of school choice.
``Its failure was more a reaction against the immediate cost of this reform,'' notes Dr. Schier. ``School choice will be back in different forms in California and all over the country.''
In California's second most-watched initiative battle, voters narrowly approved Proposition 172, which keeps a half-cent sales tax from expiring. The fires raging across southern California helped drum up support for the measure, which would help pay for more police and firefighters. (California fires, Page 7.)
Some Washington State voters, in deciding on a tax-limitation measure, tried to force fiscal restraint on a government viewed as unresponsive. Opponents decried Initiative 601 as micromanagement that would harm state programs, especially education, which accounts for most of general-fund expenditures. The initiative was too close to call, but Evergreen State voters rejected a companion measure that would have rolled back $1 billion in taxes and fees passed earlier this year and would have made it harder to raise taxes in the future.
That measure, Initiative 602, was tainted by heavy financing from liquor and tobacco lobbies hoping for a repeal of recent ``sin taxes'' on their industries. Voters also apparently worried that this measure would disrupt higher education and other programs through forced budget cutting.
Washington voters also approved an anti-crime initiative by a 3-to-1 margin. The so-called ``three strikes and you're out'' law would put criminals behind bars for life, without chance of parole, after convictions on three serious, violent offenses. The vote is part of a rising nationwide sentiment to get tough on crime and reflects local concerns about violence and gang activity in the Northwest.
Crime wasn't the only issue on voters' minds. In Cincinnati and Lewiston, Maine, voters rolled back ordinances prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals in employment and housing. The Cincinnati measure prohibits the city from ``enacting, adopting, enforcing, or administering'' any law that gives legal protection to homosexuals.
``Clearly people said they don't think there should be any special rights for homosexuals,'' says Ron Liebau, metropolitan editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The passage of the Lewiston and Cincinnati measures promises to embolden opponents of homosexual rights. The Cincinnati initiative, Issue 3, was a victory for Coloradans for Family Values, the Christian group that sponsored a landmark anti-gay rights measure in Colorado last year. About $75,000 of the $300,000 in funding for the pro-Issue 3 campaign came from the Colorado organization.