Voters Approve ‘Three Strikes’ Law, Reject Smoking Measure

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Californians overwhelmingly approved Proposition 184, the tough “three strikes” sentencing law Tuesday, and solidly rejected the tobacco industry-financed initiative to roll back the state’s strict smoking restrictions.

Voters also slapped down a sweeping, labor-backed Proposition 186 to impose a tax-funded, government-run health care system, and an initiative that would have added a 4% sales tax on gasoline to fund rail projects. Voters did agree to overhaul the system of disciplining judges, approving Proposition 190.

By a surprisingly large margin, voters showed their skepticism that cigarette makers had their best health interests at heart, soundly defeating the tobacco industry’s failed $18-million effort to win passage of Proposition 188.


Gaylord Walker, co-chairman of the campaign against 188, hailed the results, saying the outcome proved that “when you tie tobacco companies to an initiative . . . the voters easily see through it.”

Election night proved to be a poignant time for Mike Reynolds, the wedding photographer who set out to change criminal law in June, 1992, after his 18-year-old daughter, Kimber, was shot to death in a robbery outside a popular restaurant in her hometown of Fresno.

Reynolds gathered with a few friends and political supporters at his home, where several judges, prosecutors and lawyers hatched the concept 30 months ago that came to be known as the “three strikes and you’re out” sentencing law.

“This started with a promise to my daughter and I think this is a promise kept,” said a somber Reynolds, who watched election returns at his home.

Proposition 184 restates word for word the “three strikes” sentencing statute Gov. Pete Wilson signed into law in March.

Although “three strikes” is already the law, Reynolds pressed ahead with the initiative. He wants legislators to realize it would be political suicide to water down the new law.


One of the most sweeping overhauls of sentencing law ever, the measure limits plea bargaining and the right of judges to grant probation. It will double and triple sentences for thousands of felons annually, and ensure that they spend at least 80% of their sentences in prison.

The campaign for the “three strikes” measure raised more than $1.6 million, compared to the paltry $28,000 raised by opponents.

With only five citizen-generated initiatives on the ballot, 1994 was a light year for initiatives. But their costs were large. Donors pumped more than $35 million into this year’s initiative crop. As much as that is, however, it pales in comparison to the 1988 initiative wars, when a single insurance industry-backed initiative cost $37.5 million.

The year did bring one initiative record. Philip Morris, the nation’s largest cigarette manufacturer, spent $12.6 million to win passage of Proposition 188.

California Common Cause says that is the largest sum ever spent by a corporation on a California initiative.

For the tobacco industry, Proposition 188 appeared to be an act of desperation. The tobacco industry is being pilloried by hard-hitting ads aired by the state Department of Health Services. Local officials from Los Angeles to Redding have passed indoor smoking bans. The Legislature approved and Wilson signed one of the nation’s toughest anti-smoking laws this year, banning smoking in restaurants and most indoor workplaces.


Philip Morris urged retailers in a letter to pass out pro-188 literature, saying passage of the measure was “vital to the continued profitability of the cigarette category.” Philip Morris Inc. told shareholders in another letter that passage of 188 is “of paramount importance to our consumers, our employees and you, our stockholders.”

With a campaign that played on Californians’ desire to reduce smoking, the tobacco industry led in polls that came out in September. That shocked many foes, and the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Assn. and the American Heart Assn. responded by donating more than $600,000 combined.

In all, the no-on-188 campaign raised about $1 million, using most of it to broadcast commercials in which former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop called the initiative a tobacco industry lie.

Opponents received a boost from an unusual $4-million campaign funded by two health foundations. Designed to educate voters about Proposition 188, the campaign helped the opponents by simply informing voters through ads that the tobacco industry was behind Proposition 188.

Proposition 186, the health care initiative, was the next most expensive. Opponents, led by the insurance and health care industries, spent more than $9 million in an effort to kill the measure, designed to create a Canadian-style state-run health insurance system on a scale unprecedented for a state.

The initiative, which sought to provide health insurance for all legal state residents, called for new personal, business and cigarette taxes that would have raised $40 billion to $50 billion annually. The system would have been run by an elected health commissioner.


Kirk West, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday that the proposed $100-billion benefits program, accompanied by historic tax increases that would be needed to finance it, was more than voters could swallow.

“The simple fact is that voters aren’t interested in turning over a tenth of the economy to the state government,” he said. Opponents aired radio spots focusing on the proposed tax increases and played on voters’ distrust of a health system run by an elected official.

Proposition 186’s backers included unions, consumer activists and senior citizens groups. They aired television ads playing up their grass-roots support and attacking insurance companies, who had the most to lose from 186.

In a year when new taxes were less popular than incumbent politicians, the environmentalist Planning and Conservation League pushed Proposition 185, which would impose an additional 4% sales tax on gasoline to be used primarily for rebuilding the state’s urban and intercity rail system.

As the election grew closer, its support evaporated when its two primary backers--the Southern Pacific Railroad and Morrison-Knudsen, which builds passenger rail cars--withdrew their financial support. Both stood to benefit from the measure’s passage.