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Jewish Journal

Hot Propositions

California's controversial experiment in direct democracy continues

by Eric Roth

March 2, 2000 | 7:00 pm

California's ballot initiatives have been making laws and national headlines since 1911. Designed by Governor Hiram Johnson to take politics directly to the people and over the heads of a corrupt legislature, the initiative process often focuses on populist issues. California voters have used their votes to spotlight issues across the political gamut from environmental concerns (Proposition 65) to property taxes (Proposition 13) to immigration (Proposition 187) to affirmative action (Proposition 209), campaign finance reform (Proposition 208), and legal gambling (Proposition 5) .

Banning government-recognition of same-sex marriage (Proposition 22) is the hottest issue in the March 7 election, but there are other hotly contested proposition's on the primary ballot:

Proposition 1A --

Legalizes and Expands

Gambling on Indian

Reservations

.

This proposition authorizes slot machines, lottery games, and banking and percentage card games on Indian reservations. This proposition would allow 107 Indian tribes in California to each run two casinos.

Placed on the ballot by the State legislature, endorsed by both the State Democratic and Republican parties and backed by a multi-million dollar advertising campaign, this gambling initiative seems to be a heavy favorite to pass. Las Vegas casinos, defeated after spending a considerable sum against Prop. 5 (the unconstitutional proposition that has inspired Prop. 1A) have decided to sit this election out. California has legally banned slot machines and banking games like blackjack for over 100 years. "The Indians have basically paid off both parties," observes Arnold Steinberg, a political strategist.

Among the benefits, according to supporters of the measure, will be increased self-sufficiency and jobs on often poor Indian reservations. Gambling provided $120 million in local and state taxes last year. The 33,000 slot machines would allow Californian residents to gamble legally in-state. The Morongo Band of Mission Indians donated $2 million to the campaign. Assemblyman Wally Knox has endorsed Prop. 1A.

The Community Research and Information Center (CRLC), which claims to reflect the opinion of "the Torah observant community," opposes the gambling measure. "The Torah teaches us to avoid harmful activities," says Howard Winkler, executive director of CRLC and a Los Angeles County Drug Commissioner.

Ironically, some secular voices come from the other end of political spectrum agree. A longtime liberal political activist says, "I oppose it on class grounds -- the people with the least money and least education gamble the most."

Proposition 21 --

Juvenile Crime

The controversial measure, sponsored by former Governor Pete Wilson, would try more violent juvenile offenders as adults and send them to adult prisons.

"Tougher sentences for teenage murderers and rapists," advises Winkler's Community Research and Information Center in their ads and flyers.

"How tough do you want to get? Is there no limit?" asks a Jewish public defender who expects the measure to pass. "At some point, we need to put money into schools and not jails." The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California donated $5,003 opposing the measure.

Proposition 22 --

"Only a marriage between a

man and a woman is valid

in California."

"Certainly Orthodox Jews are for it, " says Steinberg. "Most Jews take marriage seriously, but what I call the professional Jews are trying to depict this proposition as an attack on civil rights."

Steinberg, the creator of Prop. 209's controversial ads that banned affirmative action in California, believes Prop. 22's opponents "have used more excessive rhetoric." Since California already has a domesticated partners act and hospitalization visitation for homosexuals, Steinberg argues, tolerance is not the issue. "This initiative says nothing about domestic partners or hospitalization rights... it defines marriage in 14 words. There is no hidden agenda." The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles donated $144,998 to the Yes on Prop. 22 campaign.

Yet many Jewish organizations and elected officials disagree. "The Knight Initiative is hateful, hurtful and divisive," says Rabbi Denise Eger of West Hollywood's Congregation Kol Ami and No on Knight boardmember.

"Some issues, like Prop. 22, should never be voted on," adds a longtime Jewish activist. "People can be fooled by simple slogans."

The American Jewish Congress, Democrats for Israel, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, Union of American Hebrew Congregations and Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs of Temple Kol Tikvah all oppose Prop. 22. United States Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, Congressman Howard Berman, Tom Lantos and Henry Waxman also recommend voting no on Prop. 22. State Senator Tom Hayden, Assemblymembers Wally Knox and Sheila Kuehl also oppose limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. Kathy Levinson, president of E*Trade Group, donated $303,443 to the No on Knight campaign.

Proposition 25 --

Campaign Finance Reform

Sponsored by Common Cause, this complicated proposition regulates all aspects of election campaigns, sets limits on contributions and spending, adds public financing and mandates disclosures on the Internet. Prop. 25 also provides public financing of campaign media advertisements and voter information packets for qualifying candidates and requires ballot pamphlets to list top contributors on ballot measures.

"Government should be of the people, by the people, and for the people, not of the gambling casinos, by the gambling casinos, and for the gambling casinos," according to Ron Unz, the proposition's primary financial supporter with a $845,000 donation. Senator McCain has also endorsed the campaign finance reform initiative.

Other good government organizations, however, disagree. CALPIRG and League of Women Voters oppose Prop. 25 claiming it contains too many loopholes. "This 24-page initiative contains provisions that have already been found unconstitutional elsewhere," notes Daniel Lowenstein, the former chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission in a ballot summary. "Prop. 25 has some good things in it, but we don't get to pick and choose which ones we want. Overall, Prop. 25's bad provisions and loopholes make it a cure worse than the disease." California Teachers Association Issues PAC donated $275,000 to defeat the measure.

Proposition 26 --

Majority vote for school bonds

Local school boards currently must get a two-thirds vote to approve new school bonds. This measure would replace that daunting requirement with a simple majority vote.

A wide coalition of education and parents groups support Prop. 26 because it would make it easier for public schools to raise money. "Public education remains a core Jewish value," observes a prominent Jewish liberal activist. Democrats for Israel, the California State PTA, AARP, the League of Women Voters and the California Teachers Association all support Prop. 26. Eli Broad, the chairman of Sunamerica, generously donated $147,591 to the Yes on Prop. 26 campaign.

"The advertising doesn't mention taxes or spending," notes Steinberg, a consultant who usually works with Republican candidates. "This will make it easier to raise property taxes so people living in apartments will vote for homeowners to pay more," warns Winkler. "We are already double-taxed " because many Orthodox Jewish parents send their children to private schools.

There are no contributors over $100 against this proposition. At a packed community forum on the propositions Wednesday night at Stephen S. Wise Temple, mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa spoke passionately in support of Prop. 26. "The only way we are going to make our schools great again is to bring back the middle class," he told an audience of 400, "and they're not going to come back if our schools look like prisons."

Proposition 28

--

Repeal Proposition 10 and

the Tobacco Tax

Jewish activists across the political spectrum find common ground on this one. Voters narrowly approved Prop. 10 in 1998 adding a 50-cent per cigarette pack tax to finance early childhood education and smoking prevention.

Many smokers feel like this tax forces them to exclusively finance programs that should be financed by the general population. The major tobacco companies have taken out full ads in the Times promising to stay out of this initiative. The Premium Tobacco Stores, however, has spent $994,147 to repeal the tax on cigarettes.

"The Jewish religion teaches that you should not do anything that will harm you," argues Winkler. "Smoking harms you." Producers Steven Speilberg gave $50,000, Norman Lear gave another $50,000, and Castle Rock executives Martin Shafer and Andrew Scheinman donated $25,000 to defeat the tobacco tax repeal.

The proliferation of ballot initiatives and growing thickness of voter information guides has also lead to some skepticism about the initiative process. "Many of these issues should have been dealt with by the State legislature," says Michael Hirshfeld, the Jewish Community Relations Committee's executive director. "Legislatures are supposed to legislate."

The JCRC declined to endorse or oppose any of California ballot initiatives for the March primary. "Consensus is the main factor in whether the JCRC takes a position," continues Hirschfeld. The JCRC also has a four-step process, beginning with legislative committee of the Government Relations board, in evaluating ballot proposals for a "distinct impact on the Jewish community." The JCRC considered Propositions 22, 26, and 28 among others this year.

Noting the history of many ballot initiatives, such as Propositions 187, 5, and 208, being ruled unconstitutional, Hirshfeld says "many initiatives are also ill-conceived and poorly worded."

Despite these doubts, California election officials expect a large turnout for the March 7 presidential primary and heavy voting on the ballot propositions.

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