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Name-Calling

September 25, 1988

As if extortionary auto-insurance rates were not enough anguish, embattled Californians now suffer a numbers racket of ballot propositions designed to correct or assuage--or whitewash--the problem. Who will approach the polling place knowing that Proposition 103 is the strong medicine prescribed by a crowd of consumer advocates backed by Ralph Nader? Who can separate Proposition 104, the insurance companies' no-fault initiative, from Proposition 100, the attorneys' opposite remedy?

The trouble, we think, is too much special interest and too little human interest. One way to ease the voters' pain might be political name-calling, along the lines of hurricanes. Ever since 1953, the United States has applied human designations to some of our most devastating storms. Betsy blew down $2 billion worth of Louisianain 1965. Camille was the killer storm along the Gulf Coast in 1969. Hurricane Frederic in 1979, the first year boys received equal billing, did more dollar damage to Alabama and Mississippi than any fellow traveler in history. Then came savage Gilbert this year, tearing up Jamaica, Mexico and Texas.

Humanizing ballot measures wouldn't make them as terrifying as hurricanes, but it could make them somewhat more memorable and recognizable--at least during the season of duress. Say, Hector, for the consumers' revolt. Magdalene, for the insurers' no-fault. And perhaps Sue, for the lawyers' measure.

Spot announcements could be personified: "Yes on Gayle," "No on Marvin." Consider the possibility of name-calling related to the issues, with Faith, Hope and Charity among the pool of possibilities.

What we have colliding on the November ballot are Propositions 100, 101, 103, 104 and 106--all pertaining to auto insurance but none of them descriptive. California numbers its propositions serially for 20 years; not until 2002 will a confused electorate return to No. 1. Meanwhile, as Juliet might have said, a proposition by any name at all would smell sweeter.

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