The resounding 66%-34% defeat of California’s Proposition 102 was a vote of confidence in the anti-AIDS strategies of public health officers around the country and should allow Congress and President-elect George Bush to resist extremist pressures in combatting the epidemic, AIDS experts said Wednesday.
“This was a clear message from the electorate of a state that is regarded as a trend setter,” said Dr. Burton J. Lee III of Memorial-Sloan Cancer Center in New York, a member of President Reagan’s AIDS Commission and a friend and adviser to Bush on AIDS. “That speaks worlds to a politician,” he added.
Another likely legacy of the campaign will be the lasting enmity of AIDS activists and gays toward Gov. George Deukmejian for his last-minute endorsement of the measure. Deukmejian was the only statewide official to embrace Proposition 102, which was widely opposed by AIDS researchers, public health officials, religious leaders and others.
“Gov. Deukmejian, you are a scandal and a disgrace,” declared Benjamin Schatz, director of the AIDS Civil Rights Project of National Gay Rights Advocates, at an election night rally here. “Don’t even think of coming to San Francisco,” he warned, implying that AIDS activists will be waiting to demonstrate against the governor.
Deukmejian was also blasted in a public letter sent Wednesday by more than 30 AIDS education, service and religious organizations. “Prop. 102 represents a bleak and deadly page in the history of the AIDS epidemic. Your decision (to support 102) indicates that the void in reasoned, informed AIDS leadership from your office will continue,” the letter said.
The governor announced his support for the proposition 11 days before the election. “I have carefully considered the opinions of the experts on both sides and have determined that the additional tools provided by this measure will advance rather than impede efforts to stop the spread of AIDS,” he said.
Pat Christen, director of public policy of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said the anger of Proposition 102 foes resulted from having to divert human and financial resources from what she called “the real battle” against AIDS.
“It cost us over $800,000 to defeat this proposition,” Christen said. She said the money could have saved lives by being used to educate people on avoiding exposure to the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus.
Proposition 102 would have forced state officials to change their policies in fighting AIDS, mandating the reporting of all those infected or suspected to be infected with HIV. It also would have required the tracing of all of their sexual contacts and repealed state laws forbidding the use of HIV tests by employers and insurers.
Opponents said the measure would have dealt a blow to efforts to contain and cure the illness by driving likely HIV carriers away from the health-care system, where they are now counseled on how to avoid spreading the illness, and by scaring away potential research subjects.
“This was clearly a referendum on AIDS policy,” said Schatz, who noted that some observers had dismissed previous victories against similar initiatives put forward by extremist Lyndon LaRouche as “referendums on LaRouche.”
Mathilde Krim, founding chair of the American Foundation for AIDS Research and a research scientist herself, called the measure’s defeat “a reaffirmation of society’s rational and compassionate response towards dealing with AIDS.”
New Proposals Feared
“Unfortunately,” Krim added, “I am afraid that there will be other coercive and punitive propositions popping up--if not in California, then in other states.”
Indeed, even as opponents of the measure celebrated their victory they were laying plans to head off future restrictive AIDS measures.
“It’s a disappointment, certainly, but the war goes on,” vowed Rep. William Dannemeyer, (R-Fullerton), one of the measure’s principal sponsors, in a telephone interview. He said the measure’s sponsors would work to enact Proposition 102’s provisions in the Legislature and to change the leadership of the California Medical Assn., which strenuously opposed the measure.
The measure lost in every county of the state--including Dannemeyer’s own conservative Orange County, where people voted 60% to 40% against it. Opponents said last week’s denunciation of key elements of Proposition 102 by U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop helped turn the tide.
Koop, ironically, was drawn into the fray by Deukmejian’s endorsement of the measure.
Lee said the proposition’s sweeping defeat should ease the way in Congress for the enactment of anti-discrimination legislation for all handicaps, including HIV infection. The presidential commission’s report said such legislation should be the centerpiece of the nation’s battle against AIDS.
Bush, breaking with the Reagan Administration, endorsed the commission’s report in June and called the protection of those infected with HIV a “national, federal responsibility.” But Bush operatives acceded to pressures from conservative elements in his party and omitted his call for anti-discrimination legislation in the Republican Party platform.
Opponents of Proposition 102 generally played down the significance of the passage of Proposition 96, which allows courts to order HIV tests in sex crimes or assaults on peace officers.
“It is bad, but it affects a much narrower group of people,” Krim said.
Schatz called approval of Proposition 96 “less a statement of voter sentiment about AIDS than a statement about crime.”