California makes its choices

Money talks as voters say no to gay marriage, yes to cracking-down on juvenile crime and maybe to more money for schools.

Published March 8, 2000 1:30PM (EST)

Voters in California did more on Super Tuesday than just give the nod to Bush and Gore. Ballot proposals in the state revealed overwhelming public opposition to gay marriage and cemented support for getting tough on crime. They also showed that, as everyone knows, money talks in the political system.

The most controversial and high-profile of the initiatives was the gay marriage ban, Proposition 22, sponsored by state Sen. William "Pete" Knight, whose gay son spoke out against his father's homophobic pet project. Nevertheless, despite the fact that no state has legalized gay marriage, voters decided that in case any states do, California will not recognize them. Along with the Catholic and Mormon churches, Knight raised $10 million -- twice as much as opponents.

With the passage of Prop. 21, California became the harshest state in the country on juvenile offenders and keep up its tough on crime trend, started with the passage of the "three strikes and you're out" law in 1994. Sixty-two percent of voters approved the broad measure, sponsored by former Gov. Pete Wilson, that gives prosecutors the means to move juvenile offenders out of juvenile court and into adult court, where they can be sentenced to adult prisons for violent and "gang-related" crimes.

Despite the fact that juvenile crime -- along with all crime in the nation -- is at its lowest rate in 10 years, the Prop. 21 campaign showed Californians are still willing to spend billions (in this case an estimated $750 million) to build prisons.

Other crime initiatives in the state also passed by wider margins. Prop. 18 won 72 percent of the vote, and extends the circumstances under which murder can be punished by death to include arson and kidnapping. Prop. 19, which won 74 percent, increases the penalty for the second-degree murder of a Bay Area Rapid Transit cop or California State University peace officer to life in prison.

Even as national attention turns toward campaign-finance reform, voters turned down Prop. 25, which would have put $55 million into public campaign financing. The Democratic and Republican parties opposed the measure, saying it was too complicated and too flawed -- Gov. Gray Davis said, "the cure was worse than the disease." Money from both sides was nearly equal, at about $2 million each.

Nevada casino conglomerates got what they paid for: the go-ahead to set up Nevada-style casinos on Indian reservations. Proposition 1A, which cost its backers $23 million, was approved with 65 percent of the vote. It is just the latest in a string of pricey initiatives that have turned out to be great investments for the gambling industry.

In Oakland, the charismatic mayor and former Gov. Jerry Brown managed to pass an initiative that gives the mayor power over the school board. Measure D makes Oakland the first school district in the nation to be jointly picked by voters and appointed by the mayor. Brown will name three new members, and says they will be finance and curriculum experts, there to steer the seven elected members from pet projects that misuse public money. Facing opposition from the teachers union and the NAACP, Measure D won a narrow victory.

Schools across the state could get a break if Prop. 26 manages to squeeze by. The votes are still being tallied in a close race over the initiative, which would lower the bar for the approval of school bond measures and tax hikes from two-thirds to a simple majority. Prop. 26 aims to partially repeal 1978's Prop. 13, which weakened California schools by cutting local property taxes and requiring all tax hikes to get two-thirds of the vote.

By Fiona Morgan

Fiona Morgan is an associate editor for Salon News.

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