Key Ballot Measures Go Governor's Way

Times Staff Writer

Wagering that embryonic stem cells could provide cures for the most disabling ailments, Californians on Tuesday voted to create a $3-billion research effort that would be the nation's most aggressive.

On one of the most crowded initiative ballots in California history, two of the most contested measures — to ease the state's three-strikes law and require businesses to provide workers with health insurance — both failed to win majorities.

Also on the statewide ballot, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer easily won reelection.

Underwriting 10 years of scientific study, Proposition 71 — placed on the ballot by venture capitalists, Hollywood stars and rich people with sick relatives — will swell the financial obligations of what is already the most indebted state in America. With all of the state's precincts reporting, the measure was approved by 59.1% of the voters.

"All of us could have lived a hundred lifetimes and not had the opportunity to change the future of human suffering as the people of California have tonight," said Bob Klein, a Fresno real estate developer who helped finance the campaign for the bond measure.

On several measures, the electorate was in sync with Schwarzenegger as voters weighed the impressively diverse batch of 16 ballot initiatives. They made for the most expensive and intense campaigns during a year when the presidential race generally stayed clear of the state.

Californians overwhelmingly backed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on his top priorities this election season: to defeat two measures that would have expanded gambling in the state. Both failed.

"This is what I love about election day," the governor said Tuesday night at a victory party in Beverly Hills. "Because when the people flex their muscles, then the state gets much stronger. And tonight they've sent their message."

Another Schwarzenegger-backed measure, to limit lawsuits against businesses, was ahead with 58.9% of the vote, and opponents vowed early Wednesday morning to try to reverse it on the 2006 ballot.

And a proposition expanding authorities' ability to collect DNA samples was approved with more than 61% of the ballots cast in its favor.

Voters also agreed with Schwarzenegger in rejecting higher phone taxes to pay for emergency medical services. More than 70% of the voters opposed the measure.

But they spurned him by apparently approving a tax on people with annual incomes above $1 million to pay for mental health services, and by voting for more borrowing to improve children's hospitals. The governor had opposed both proposals.

Democratic and Republican party leaders stymied a Schwarzenegger-endorsed effort to dilute the partisanship in the Legislature by changing the way primary elections are run. It was well behind another measure sponsored by the Legislature that would keep the status quo.

Schwarzenegger tried to influence most of the campaigns, which came a year after he won the governorship in a recall election that was alternatively praised and derided as an example of California's version of direct democracy.

He had little success in his attempt to help Republicans win more seats in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

National attention was riveted by Proposition 71. The measure was designed to turn the state into the nation's incubator for stem cell research by borrowing $3 billion to underwrite experiments on embryonic stem cells, considered to have great potential for helping cure debilitating conditions including juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries.

The proposition was motivated by the Bush White House's decision to limit federal funding of research into stem cells, which can become any type of cell in the body.

Schwarzenegger supported the measure, putting him at odds with Bush, whose reelection he supported.

The state's most disputed healthcare battle was over Proposition 72, the referendum on a law approved last year that would require all businesses with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance and pay for 80% of it.

Hawaii is the only state with such a requirement. Experts say the measure would have extended healthcare coverage to 1.4 million of California's 5.3 million people currently without insurance.

The referendum was put on the ballot by business groups that wanted to nullify that law. (As with all referendums, passage keeps the law on the state's books; failure removes it.) Schwarzenegger opposed the measure as bad for businesses. As of this morning, the measure lost by a slim margin, with 50.9% of voters opposing it.

The governor also supported the ballot item that would restrict lawsuits against businesses. Proposition 64 aimed to revise the state's Unfair Business Competition Law, which allows claims to be brought against a company even by people not directly affected by the conduct of the business.

In the final days of the election, none of those measures captured as much attention as Proposition 66. The initiative aimed to ease California's three-strikes law by allowing life sentences to be meted out for third-strike crimes only if those offenses were violent or serious as defined by the criminal code.

Though it had inspired similarly tough laws in other states, California's law had remained one of the harshest even as crime fell in recent years.

September and October polls that showed the proposition leading heavily persuaded Schwarzenegger to spend about $2 million of his own campaign kitty to fight it. With all precincts reporting, the initiative lost with only 46.6% of the "Yes" vote.

"Just the fact that it's going into the evening [before the results were known] is attributable to the campaign he's waged against it," said Rob Stutzman, the governor's communications director.

Marty Wilson, a political advisor to the governor, said before the election that Schwarzenegger chose to focus most of his late energy and money against the three-strikes measure because there was not a strong campaign underway to defeat it.

Wilson said the healthcare-mandate proposition and the measure addressing lawsuits against businesses had "well-funded, well-organized campaigns, so the governor dropping into those campaigns was an easier lift for us."

Earlier in the preelection season, Schwarzenegger directed most of his efforts toward defeating two gambling measures that he said would interfere with his ability to negotiate deals with Indian tribes. Both measures lost by large margins.

Proposition 68, which card rooms and horse-racing tracks devised to allow them to open 30,000 slot machines, had been on life support for a month after its backers took the rare step of announcing the suspension of their campaign, on which they had already gambled $28 million. The proposition remained on the ballot, however.

The other gambling measure, Proposition 70, was pushed by the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians to allow tribes to expand their casinos without limits. In return, the tribes would pay the state a set portion of their profits.

In the area of government reform, the most contested measure was Proposition 62, which was devised to replace political party primaries with one blanket primary, in which the two candidates with the most votes would be sent into a general election. It failed to win majority approval.

Both Democratic and Republican party leaders despised the measure so much that the Legislature placed a competing and victorious proposition on the ballot to undermine it — knowing that whichever earned the most votes would prevail, even if both passed. Proposition 60 would embed in the state Constitution a guarantee that all political parties could field candidates in the general election.

There were two less-contested government reform measures on the ballot.

Californians approved Proposition 59, which was designed to make it harder for state government agencies to restrict public access to records and documents.

Voters also approved Proposition 1A, a concession to local governments, which reluctantly agreed this year to give up several billion dollars in revenues in return for new rules making it harder for Sacramento to raid their coffers in future years.

That agreement was meant to supersede Proposition 65, a stricter measure that local governments had previously put on the ballot. Proposition 65 was rejected by a wide margin.

A number of measures sought to bolster social services through specific funding methods:

* Proposition 61, which led with more than 58% of the vote, authorizes the state to issue $750 million in bonds for construction, expansion and renovation of children's hospital.

* Proposition 63 would expand funding of public mental health programs by adding a 1% surcharge on incomes of more than $1 million a year, starting in January. More than 53% of voters were in favor of the measure.

* Proposition 67, which would have bolstered emergency medical services by imposing a surcharge on in-state telephone calls, fell far short of garnering a majority. Schwarzenegger opposed the measure.

Perhaps the least debated measure on Tuesday's ballot was Proposition 60A, a straggler that directs lawmakers to use money from the sale of surplus state property to reduce the state's debt. The Legislature had included the innocuous proposal within Proposition 60 -- the pro-primary measure -- to help draw voters in, but a judge later separated the two. Schwarzenegger took no position on Proposition 60A, which passed.

Times staff writer Jesus Sanchez contributed to this report.

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