LaRouche Back With a New AIDS Proposition, Old Pitch
Political extremist Lyndon LaRouche is on trial in Boston. His fund-raising methods are under attack. Several of his better-known California allies have deserted him.
But that has not prevented LaRouche and his followers from placing Proposition 69 on the June 7 ballot in their continuing effort to make AIDS a political issue in California.
The measure will undoubtedly give voters a feeling of deja vu : Proposition 69 is virtually identical to Proposition 64, the LaRouche AIDS initiative rejected by the voters in November, 1986, by a margin of 71% to 29%.
The LaRouche organization is counting on a shift in public attitudes to win passage of Proposition 69.
But the California Poll reported last week that among registered voters who have heard of Proposition 69, sentiment is 3 to 1 against it.
The initiative has quickly attracted opposition from the doctors, politicians and homosexual activists who helped defeat LaRouche’s earlier ballot measure.
Required to Report Names
Like its predecessor, Proposition 69 would require doctors to report to public health authorities the names of all patients who have contracted the acquired immune deficiency syndrome or who test positive for exposure to the AIDS virus.
People who have AIDS or are carriers of the virus could be subject to quarantine, government monitoring or other measures that are available to state and local officials for controlling communicable diseases.
“It’s giving to public health authorities the legal authority to do their job,” contended Jim Duree, a spokesman for the Proposition 69 campaign. “It’s a very moderate kind of measure. It reaffirms the principle of public health medicine.”
Public health officials and the medical community, however, disagree. They say Proposition 69 would hinder their efforts to stop the spread of AIDS by driving underground those who have the disease or should be tested voluntarily for exposure to the virus.
“The initiative makes no more sense today than it did two years ago,” said Ken Kizer, state health services director and the state’s top public health officer. “We have all the legal tools that we need now.”
Extreme measures such as quarantine are not necessary or effective in controlling the spread of AIDS, Kizer said. Health officials already have such powers but have chosen not to use them.
“There is nothing in the current law that prevents me or a local health officer from saying somebody can’t work in a restaurant or a school or whatever if it’s unsafe for them to do so,” he said.
Focus Put on Fears
In the view of Proposition 69’s opponents, LaRouche and his followers are attempting to exploit fears over the spread of AIDS to broaden the appeal of their organizing and fund-raising efforts.
As of March 31, there were 12,785 reported cases of AIDS in California. Of those, 7,211 victims had died. No cure or vaccine for the disease is in sight, and scientists and state legislators have had limited success in finding ways to halt the spread of the disease.
Among those opposing the measure are the California Medical Assn., the California Nurses Assn., the Health Officers Assn. of California and the California Assn. of Hospitals and Health Systems. In addition, most Democratic and Republican politicians in the state are expected to oppose the measure, as they did in 1986.
Even two conservative politicians who supported Proposition 64 have said they are backing away from its successor. Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), who signed the ballot argument for the 1986 measure, said he will not support Proposition 69 because he does not want to be linked with LaRouche.
“He is a political extremist with his own agenda,” Dannemeyer said. “Let him paddle his own canoe. I don’t want anything to do with him.”
State Sen. John Doolittle (R-Rocklin), another Proposition 64 supporter, denounced LaRouche as “a very clever manipulator” who has a “hidden agenda.” Doolittle, the author of a number of bills to promote widespread testing for AIDS, said he will oppose Proposition 69.
During the 18 months since Proposition 64 was defeated, LaRouche and his organization have been under mounting pressure from federal and local prosecutors.
LaRouche, a perennial candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is on trial on charges of conspiring to obstruct a grand jury investigation into allegations of credit card fraud and irregularities in his 1984 presidential campaign.
LaRouche companies, organizations and followers have been charged in Boston and Virginia with raising millions of dollars through the fraudulent use of credit cards--the card numbers allegedly obtained from people who bought literature at airport tables staffed by LaRouche backers.
LaRouche’s trial in Boston has been delayed frequently as attorneys battle over what evidence will be admitted in the case. LaRouche, charging that Vice President George Bush and other government officials have conspired against him, is seeking government documents to show that his organizations were the target of infiltration by the CIA and FBI.
3 Aides Face Hearings
In a separate legal action in California, three LaRouche aides will face court hearings in Los Angeles in coming weeks on charges they fraudulently collected signatures to qualify Proposition 64 for the ballot.
The proponents of Proposition 69 are saying little about their campaign plans and would not discuss how much money they expect to spend. During the 1986 campaign, they spent little on Proposition 64 once it had qualified for the ballot but circulated a booklet on AIDS prepared by LaRouche’s headquarters in Virginia.
“We will definitely mount a very serious campaign,” said Duree, the proponents’ spokesman. “The campaign is going to focus on educating people about the threat that AIDS poses. We think there’s a lot of support for measures like this.”
In the kind of rhetoric LaRouche and his followers are noted for, Duree also accused the Proposition 64 opponents of mounting a dishonest campaign against the measure and a “witch hunt of Lyndon LaRouche.”
“It was the big lie campaign reminiscent of the KGB or the Nazis which completely misrepresented the contents of the initiative itself,” he said.
He also accused government and health officials of hiding the extent of the AIDS epidemic to avoid spending funds on the disease. “There’s general agreement that there’s been an AIDS cover-up in the interest of not spending the large amounts of money needed to combat this epidemic,” Duree said.
Opposition Scaled Down
On the other side, the opponents of Proposition 69 say they will mount a much smaller-scale campaign than the $2.2-million effort to defeat Proposition 64.
Bruce Decker, a leading opponent in both initiative battles, said the campaign expects to spend as little as $100,000 to defeat Proposition 69, in part because the opponents of the measure are involved in a large number of other AIDS-related battles.
Calling themselves the California AIDS Initiative Committee, the opponents of Proposition 69 are circulating their own petitions for a November ballot measure that would raise money for AIDS research by giving a tax credit to state income taxpayers.
The group is also opposing two other potential November ballot measures: one sponsored by Dannemeyer and Doolittle that would eliminate the confidentiality of test results and lead to widespread testing, and another sponsored by Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block that calls for testing prisoners and suspects in sex crimes.
Many opponents of the measure are optimistic that voters will remember the 1986 campaign and vote again to reject the LaRouche initiative.
That sentiment is supported by California Polls, the one last week and one in February, conducted by pollster Mervin Field, who has found that the public’s opposition to the LaRouche measure has not softened in the last 18 months.
2 Surveys Conducted
In February, Field conducted two surveys designed to measure the public view of the proposal as well as attitudes toward LaRouche.
In one sample, voters were asked whether they would support a hypothetical measure that could lead to the quarantine of AIDS patients if it was sponsored by the governor and the Legislature. Those surveyed said they would reject such a measure by a margin of 68% to 24%.
In the second sample, another group of voters were asked if they would support such a measure sponsored by LaRouche. They rejected the proposal by a margin of 80% to 15%.
“We feel pretty strongly that the basic educational effort we did on Proposition 64 has stuck,” said Mark Madsen, a public health specialist with the California Medical Assn. who is active in the campaign. “I don’t think the voters are about to be duped by LaRouche.”
But others are concerned that the opponents of Proposition 69 may be taking the defeat of the measure for granted and not mounting a tough enough campaign.
“I read the polls, but I feel uneasy,” Kizer said. “I don’t think you can count on the defeat being a sure thing.”