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Prop. 209 Wins, Bars Affirmative Action

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative action measure that sharply divided Californians with clashing images of civil rights leaders and ex-Klansman David Duke, won voters’ approval late Tuesday.

With half the votes counted, Proposition 209, a constitutional

amendment that would eliminate government-sponsored affirmative action programs, was winning by 13%.

In fact, Californians were voting favorably on an extraordinary number of ballot propositions. Of the 15 proposals on the ballot, nine won or were leading.

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On Proposition 209, the Los Angeles Times exit poll showed that a healthy majority of African American and Latino voters were opposed. Democrats also opposed Proposition 209, but by smaller margins, while Republicans favored it.

As the vote count continued, Gov. Pete Wilson, an early and outspoken supporter of Proposition 209, said: “This sought to undo a terrible unfairness so that opportunity is offered not just to some Californians, but to all Californians.”

Wilson said he expected the measure to be challenged in the courts, but predicted that “fairness will prevail.”

Another advocate, UC Regent Ward Connerly, an African American, told fellow blacks in a television address: “For decades we have relied on government to secure our rights . . . but the time has indeed come to let go. We cannot forever look through the rearview mirror at America’s mistakes.”

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Read Scott Martin, spokesman for the group Defeat 209, said that the proposition was “the wedge issue that failed” because Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole was unable to ride the measure to victory over President Clinton in California.

“We have just laid to rest the Republican national strategy of divide and conquer,” Martin said, referring to Dole’s loss in California.

In other results, Proposition 215, a measure permitting the medicinal use of marijuana won by a healthy margin. Proposition 213 to limit lawsuits by uninsured motorists and drunken drivers who are injured in car accidents won a major victory.

Also winning were measures to limit campaign contributions, raise the minimum wage, and spend $995 million to improve California’s water system and enhance the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 211 to make it easier to sue over stock fraud. Another lawyer-backed initiative to prevent the Legislature from capping attorneys’ fees also lost, as did two initiatives to increase regulation of the health care industry.

Proposition 209 was the most politically charged of the 15 measures on Tuesday’s ballot.

Despite assertions by its sponsors that Proposition 209 was a nonpartisan issue, the measure was vigorously supported by Dole, Wilson and the California Republican Party and opposed by Clinton and the state Democratic Party.

The measure began as an exercise by two academics, Glynn Custred and Tom Wood, encouraged by the conservative Claremont Institute think tank.

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But the idea quickly caught the attention of Republican Party leaders, including Wilson, who had hoped to ride the issue to the presidential nomination and the White House.

Although the governor’s presidential aspirations died before the first primary, he and the state GOP installed Wilson’s friend and longtime supporter, Connerly, as Proposition 209 campaign chairman.

With Wilson’s help, Connerly, scrambled last year to raise more than $500,000 needed to gather signatures to place the measure on the ballot. Connerly became its most visible supporter, setting him apart from most other African Americans, who opposed the proposition. In all, backers raised $3 million, with much of it coming from the Republican Party.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Connerly tried to distance himself from the party, particularly after the family of Martin Luther King Jr. protested that the GOP had produced television ads using the late civil rights leader’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The firestorm prompted the party to cancel the ads.

Republican leaders assumed that the idea would be as emotionally charged as Proposition 187 had been in 1994. But while the measure was wrenching for many Californians, it never drew the massive marches and demonstrations that marked the Proposition 187 debate.

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Proposition 209 was virtually certain to be challenged in the courts by civil rights activist groups, just as Proposition 187 was after its passage. The 1994 ballot proposal, which sought to cut off state spending for illegal immigrants, is still being litigated in federal court.

Supporters of Proposition 209 insisted that the measure would not end affirmative action, but merely eliminate preferential treatment in state employment, education and contracting on the basis of race, sex, and ethnicity.

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Overall, this year’s high number of ballot measures represented a shift from 1992 and 1994, when California was mired in recession, and initiative promoters, realizing that donors had less money to spread around, pushed only a handful. In 1996, money flowed.

When the final figures are in, campaigns for the initiatives will top $85 million, making this year’s measures among the costliest ever.

During the campaign, political partisans promoted several of the measures as a way of getting “their” voters to the polls Tuesday.

While several GOP candidates entwined their campaigns around Proposition 209, organized labor, hoping to elect Democrats, pushed four initiatives, chief among them the minimum wage measure, Proposition 210, along with measures on health care, campaign finance and one raising income taxes on the top earners.

Several of the ballot measures got their start as bills in the Legislature, where they failed. The Legislature did approve one measure--a bill to legalize marijuana for medicinal uses--only to have Wilson veto it in 1994.

This year, longtime supporters of legalizing marijuana joined people suffering from such ailments as AIDS and cancer and their supporters to propel the issue onto the ballot as Proposition 215.

The initiative would permit physicians to authorize patients to use marijuana for virtually any ailment. However, patients would have to grow their own or have someone give it to them--not sell it to them.

Under Proposition 215, the sale of marijuana would remain illegal.

Of all the initiatives, the television air war was dominated by Proposition 211, a measure that will cost more than $45 million, a record for spending on a single ballot measure in California.

The harsh attack paid off--it lost by more than 2 to 1.

Proposition 211 sought to expand the grounds to sue over stock fraud, and would have made corporate officers and directors personally liable.

Corporations, ranging from Intel to Coca Cola, and even the New York stock exchanges, funded one of the most costly political advertising campaign ever. In all, Proposition 211’s opponents raised $36 million.

“Clearly, 211 is an investment decision,” said Bob Stern of the Center for Governmental Studies. “They’re trying to send a message--it can’t pass in California, so it can’t pass anywhere else. There’s a big fear that if an initiative passes in California, it will spread.”

Opponents attacked the measure as a boon for lawyers, and singled out its chief proponent, securities lawyer William Lerach of San Diego, accusing him of being greedy.

Lerach’s law firm and a handful of other firms funded a counterattack featuring elderly voters who had lost their savings in financial scams and believed that Proposition 211 would help protect them.

In what also was a year of competing initiatives, two labor organizations failed to agree on details of a health care overhaul, prompting the two sides to place both Proposition 214 and 216 on the ballot. Both lost.

The Service Employees International Union and AFL-CIO backed of Proposition 214, while the California Nurses Assn. was the chief promoter of Proposition 216.

But the big money came from the opponents--health care corporations and insurance companies, who spent more than $7 million, primarily on television commercials. The ads, which featured bickering identical twins, were aimed at persuading voters that the measures were identical--and costly.

The measures did have similar provisions--among them government regulation of staffing levels for nurses. But Proposition 216 would have gone further, establishing a board to oversee the health care industry and imposing various taxes on health care corporations. It also would have opened health maintenance organizations to more lawsuits.

Among the other ballot measures:

* Proposition 208, backed by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, would limit the size of contributions by individuals and political action committees to $250 each to candidates for the Legislature and local offices and $500 each for statewide office. The measure won.

* Proposition 212, sponsored by the California Public Interest Group, would restrict donations to $100 for legislative and local races and $200 for statewide office, but would also have repealed a ban on politicians accepting gifts. It trailed narrowly.

* Proposition 210 sought to raise the state minimum wage from $4.25 an hour to $5 beginning next March and to $5.75 in March 1998. Although the measure lost some of its punch when Congress approved an increase to the federal minimum wage law, from $4.75 to $5.15 an hour next year, it won.

* Proposition 213, promoted by Insurance Commissioner Charles Quackenbush, would limit lawsuits by people injured in car accidents if they were drunk or uninsured, and would bar people from suing if they were engaged in a felony at the time of the accident. The proposition won by a 3-1 margin.

* Proposition 217, pushed by the Service Employees International Union, sought to reimpose upper income tax brackets on individuals who have taxable income of more than $115,000, and couples with incomes higher than $230,000. The revenue produced--an estimated $700 million year--was earmarked for local government and schools. The measure was in a virtual tie with half the vote counted.

* Proposition 218, promoted by the organization founded by the late tax reformer Howard Jarvis, sought to preclude local government from imposing special property assessments for such services as parks, fire suppression and libraries. Local officials said the measure would have cost more than $100 million a year. The initiative was ahead.

* Proposition 207, backed by California trial lawyers, lost. It would have guaranteed that the Legislature could not limit fees charged by attorneys.

Californians were also faced with three bond measures placed on the ballot by the state Legislature: Proposition 204, which called for $995 million to finance a variety of water projects throughout the state won; Proposition 205, $700 million to build and upgrade jails, was losing, and Proposition 206, $400 million to continue the long-popular Cal-Vet state program of low-cost farm and home loans, won.


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