California Elections : Election Day: Mild Weather, Key Races and Voter Apathy

Times Political Writer

Choices for two of the country's most important political offices--governor and U.S. senator from California--await the judgment of voters today, along with the fate of six justices of the state Supreme Court.

Voters also have their say on an inventory of 13 statewide ballot propositions. These include two far-reaching and harshly fought citizen initiatives on the topical problems of AIDS and toxic waste.

Polls are open 13 hours, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The National Weather Service forecast fair and mild skies everywhere in the state for Election Day, with some local gusty winds in parts of Southern California.

Election officials say there may be a record in the making this election: A record of public indifference.

Secretary of State March Fong Eu has predicted that only 59% of registered voters will cast ballots. This is a smaller percentage than for any gubernatorial election in history.

And, if only 59% of registered voters turn out, that means decisions will be made by far less than half of those eligible to register and vote. This is because 17.5 million Californians are eligible to vote, but only 12.8 million registered by the October deadline. Eu estimated that only 7.57 million will actually vote.

State officials reported that requests for absentee ballots were higher this election than for the 1982 gubernatorial election. Four years ago, 6.5% of the electorate, or nearly 500,000 people, voted absentee. The secretary of state has predicted that this will increase to 8% this time. The Los Angeles Times Poll last month found that 10% of the respondents planned to cast absentee ballots.

If one thing dominates the ballot, it is incumbency. Only one statewide office is open, that of state controller, the keeper of the government's fiscal ledgers. In all other statewide races, incumbents are seeking reelection, with a handful of veterans trying to stretch their service for fourth terms.

At the top of the ballot is the rematch of four years ago for governor: incumbent George Deukmejian, the Republican, versus Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, the Democrat, each a fixture in state politics for almost a generation.

Then there is the most expensive election contest in California history, the challenge against three-term U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston by Rep. Ed Zschau, the Republican. Combined spending in the race is expected to be near $20 million, or about $3.75 per vote.

Six of seven members of the Supreme Court are on the ballot for a yes or no confirmation vote, including the highest-ranking woman in state government and one of its most widely known figures, Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird. Three other Democratic-appointed liberals are on the ballot with her, Justices Stanley Mosk, Cruz Reynoso and Joseph R. Grodin. Two Republican-appointed conservative justices also are on the ballot, Edward A. Panelli and Malcolm M. Lucas.

Along with the governorship, all other statewide constitutional offices in California also are up this election.

The lieutenant governor is independently elected and has provided one of the most bruising contests of the season. Former Lt. Gov. Mike Curb, the Republican, is trying to oust incumbent Democrat Leo T. McCarthy. The office has little power and visibility but is viewed as a choice rung on the upward-bound political ladder.

Another brawl was played out for the office of controller: Assemblyman Gray Davis, the Democrat from Los Angeles, versus state Sen. William Campbell, the Republican, from Hacienda Heights. This ministerial office also is viewed as a choice encampment for ambitious politicians.

Secretary of State Eu is herself up for election. She is the Democrat seeking her fourth term against Republican challenger Bruce Nestande, an Orange County supervisor. The secretary of state is California's chief elections officer and responsible for maintaining state records.

Below the governor, the next two most powerful of the statewide offices in California government have attracted less competitive interest this election. Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, the Democrat, is challenged by dark-horse attorney Bruce Gleason, a Republican from Panorama City. The attorney general manages a large bureaucracy of prosecutors and investigators.

Jesse M. Unruh is destined to win a fourth term as state treasurer, a job as important as the billions of dollars in tax receipts that the treasurer is responsible for investing. Unruh is a Democrat and has no Republican challenger. But like the other statewide candidates, he faces opposition from candidates representing California's three minor parties--Peace and Freedom, Libertarian and American Independent.

One hundred state legislators will be selected at the polls--the entire 80-member Assembly and half the 40-member Senate. Every one in California's 45-seat delegation to the House of Representatives, the largest in the nation, also is up for election.

Incumbency was the overriding consideration in most races, with Democrats going into the balloting with majorities in all three delegations. Republican challengers were assisted at the last moment in several races by President Reagan, who signed anti-Democrat brochures in target races. The mailers arrived at voters' homes on Monday.

Additionally, the four elected members of the state Board of Equalization, which hears taxpayer appeals and administers some tax laws, are up for election, district by district.

Ballot propositions this election are numbered 53 to 65. Two of them call for voters to don the hats of physicians and scientists.

The AIDS initiative, sponsored by political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche, is Proposition 64. It would declare the fatal disease to be a contagious condition--a declaration with uncertain and bitterly debated potential. Proposition 65 is a measure to prohibit toxic discharges into drinking water and require warnings of public exposure to certain harmful chemicals. It likewise has stirred passionate debate over its effect on jobs versus the environment.

Two other initiatives have triggered vigorous debate. Proposition 63 would declare English the official language of the state at a time when its immigrant population is soaring. Proposition 61 is an initiative that takes government workers to task by limiting their salaries and benefits.

Proposition 57 would limit pensions for retired public officials. Proposition 62 would stiffen public vote requirements for local tax increases. Propositions 58 and 60 would give senior citizens and families some specific and narrow property tax breaks. Proposition 59 would write into the state Constitution the current practice of requiring election, rather than appointment, of county district attorneys.

Propositions 53 to 56 are bond issues--$800 million for school buildings, $500 million for new prisons, $100 million for improvement of drinking water systems and $400 million for improvements at public universities.

Local voters must make other choices of judges, municipal officials and still more ballot propositions.

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