Voters say yes to state taxes, no to antiabortion measures

More than 150 ballot initiatives – on issues from gay marriage to renewable energy – were decided Tuesday.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/FILE
A man refueled his car with natural gas at a Clean Energy station in San Francisco in September. Proposition 7 was on California's ballot and would give the state the nation's most aggressive renewable energy mandate if passed. Utilities would have to generate half their electricity from windmills, solar panels, geothermal plants, and other sources by 2025. The proposition is not expected to pass.

Massachusetts rejected a proposal to eliminate the state income tax. Colorado said “no” to defining the beginning of human life as the moment of fertilization, and Florida and Arizona approved constitutional bans on gay marriage. Ohio voters, meanwhile, repealed a legislature law defining payday lending rates.

These were among the most-watched of 153 statewide ballot propositions in 36 states Tuesday, as the trend to direct democracy continues its downward dip. (Voters faced 162 propositions in 2004 and 204 in 2006.)

Unlike the presidential and congressional elections, there appeared to be no decisive drift either rightward or leftward. Instead, voters seemed to be picking and choosing based on local conditions. Some 86 measures were approved and 56 rejected, going by tallies early Wednesday.

And despite the economy, they did not appear reluctant to take on more debt. Fourteen of 15 statewide bond measures were approved across the country.

California voters are the hardest to understand. The state is in the midst of a deep and prolonged budget crisis with an apparent structural deficit in excess of $10 billion, yet the voters just added another $12 billion in deficit spending,” says John Matsusaka, director of the Referendum and Initiative Institute at the University of Southern California. “When your income is already too low for your current expenses, you might think it is not the best time to take out another big loan to buy even more.”

California’s Proposition 11, which establishes nonpartisan redistricting for state legislators, passed after similar measures have been rejected several times in recent years. “I think the movement for more competitive elections will continue as long as the reelection rate of incumbents remains over 90 percent,” says Professor Eric Lindgren, a political scientist at Whittier College. He and others point out that Iowa has had some of the most competitive races in the country since adopting an independent commission to draw its districts without regard to where incumbents or candidates are located.

Others say the effect of such laws is not as strong as backers say, and when that is shown to be the case in California, support elsewhere will fizzle. “Backers of redistricting have to be careful of overclaiming the effects of redrawing their districts,” says Elizabeth Garrett, political scientist at the University of Southern California. “Competition does increase but not dramatically.”

Abortion initiatives defeated

Anti-abortion initiatives, one of the most controversial issues in American politics, received a setback in Colorado. In South Dakota, voters rejected a ban on abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or if the pregnancy threatens the mother’s health or life.

But backers of Colorado’s defeated Amendment 48 (which lost 27-73) – which would have defined life as beginning at conception – claimed new momentum for that issue.

“We were successful in bringing this issue before the nation,” says Christy Burton of the “Yes on 48” campaign. “We believe the more people hear the medical and scientific proof that an unborn child is a person, the more they will agree.”

She says the “Yes” side is taking its campaign to several other states, undeterred by being outspent in Colorado by Planned Parenthood – which received tax dollars for its campaign – and by the opposition from even state Republicans, including Colorado Rep. Bob Schaffer and state party chairman Dick Wadhams.

Likewise for California’s defeated Prop. 7, which would have forced utilities to get half their power from renewable sources by 2025 and approved incentives for developing renewable energy technologies and fuels.

“We’re glad voters recognized that ‘No’ was the green vote on Prop. 7,” said Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of the Independent Energy Producers Association. “Every group opposed to Prop. 7 strongly supports bringing more alternative energy online in California. But Prop. 7 was poorly-drafted, filled with mistakes, and would have set alternative energy backward, which is why the renewable industry opposed Prop. 7.”

Renewable energy proposal loses

“We need to responsibly increase renewable energy in California as quickly as possible. We look forward to developing policies that will help move the industry forward and ensure California remains the nation’s leader in clean power,” Mr. Smutny-Jones said.

Prop. 7 proponents claimed the measure would increase renewable energy in California. But more than 400 groups opposed it, including renewable energy providers, environmental, labor, business, and consumer groups, saying it was flawed. Economists and consumer advocates warned the initiative would have significantly increased electric bills.

In other measures, Nebraska voted to end the use of affirmative action on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity.

Payday lenders in Ohio spent over $14 million – as against $250,000 by opponents – to keep voters from repealing a law limiting payday lending. Lenders wanted possible interest rates of 300 percent. Voters wanted closer to 28 percent.

“If you want evidence that voters were voting their pocketbooks in this down economy, you found it in Ohio,” says Kristina Wilfore, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.

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