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Decision '92 : SPECIAL VOTERS' GUIDE TO STATE AND LOCAL ELECTIONS : Making History by Making Choices in California


Last week, The Times offered voters a special section on the presidential race. Today, we offer a compendium of the choices and issues facing voters on the rest of the ballot, including information about statewide and local candidates and ballot measures.

UCLA political scientist Shanto Iyengar suggests that voters disregard political ads because the 30-second commercial tends to distort or tell just one side of a complex story. Rather, he proposes that voters turn to nonpartisan and unbiased printed material.

"Here, presumably, there is a greater opportunity for outlining track records and positions in detail," he said.

That is the goal of this section.

The winds of change are lashing California's venerable and battered house of politics. That sounds like a political cliche from some past election year--pick a year. But 1992 is different. The variety of choices and the prospects for change make it difficult for the disgruntled citizen to gripe, "Oh, it doesn't make any difference whether I vote or not." Or, "Once they get in office, they're all the same."

The choices Californians make this Nov. 3 will make a difference. It is not every election that voters can make choices about those two certainties, death and taxes, but both are at the center of prominent ballot measures this year.

Several forces have converged on the political system this year that have already shattered the notion of politics as usual.

National reapportionment based on the 1990 census has increased California's representation in the House of Representatives from 45 to 52, or 12% of the total House membership, more than any state in U.S. history. The redrawing of political districts has forced some incumbents to retire or has thrown them in with new constituents in a way that is making them run for their political lives. There are 15 open districts in which no incumbent is on the ballot.

Generally, the political remapping is expected to favor Republicans. This is especially significant in the battle for control of the state Assembly, where dramatic change is expected. California voters will fill all 80 Assembly seats for two-year terms and half of the 40 state Senate seats, which carry four-year terms. There is no incumbent running in more than one-third of the Assembly districts.

State lawmakers' term limits, approved by voters in 1990, will begin to have an impact this year. With a complete turnover in legislative membership occurring in just a few years, the new legislators elected this year will be able to climb the ladder of legislative leadership and influence more quickly than ever before.

Perhaps the most historic opportunity California voters have this year is filling both state seats in the 100-member U.S. Senate in the same election, something that has not happened in California's 142 years of statehood.

Democratic voters have written a new chapter of California political history by nominating two women--Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein--for the two Senate posts.

No woman has ever held a Senate seat from California. The possibility of two winning Senate seats has captured national attention. The two male Republican candidates--Bruce Herschensohn and Sen. John Seymour--are seeking to become giant-killers, in view of public opinion polls that have had both women with strong leads through much of the campaign.

The prospect for change does not end with the top of the ballot. Los Angeles County voters will elect at least one more woman, and the first elected black member, to the five-member County Board of Supervisors, one of the most influential local government entities in the nation. The election of either state Sen. Dianne Watson or former Rep. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke in the 4th District is likely to tip the balance of political power in county government away from the conservative group that has dominated it for years. County voters also will decide whether to expand the board's membership to nine.

Statewide, Californians face an array of 13 ballot measures, some far-reaching, including proposals to reform the state welfare system and give the governor more control over the state budget, to impose term limits on California members of Congress, to require that employers provide basic health care coverage for most of their workers and to allow doctor-assisted death for terminally ill people.

Positions in many city governments and special districts will be filled and local ballot measures will also be decided Nov. 3.

For those who complain that there is no real difference between the two major party candidates in any particular race, there is an array of choices this year. Since the last election, the environmentally oriented Green Party has qualified for the ballot and has candidates in many contests. As usual in recent elections, voters also have the option of casting ballots for candidates of the American Independent, Peace and Freedom and Libertarian parties for most offices.

In all, it is a daunting array of choices facing the California voter, who will be barraged in the final weeks of the campaign by leaflets, nonstop ads on television and a baffling flurry of campaign charges and countercharges. Read the back page for a guide to deceptive advertising and other campaign trickery and some tips on how to cope with the election blizzard.

The section will not attempt to tell you how to vote. But it graphically and simply will provide information about the choices and issues facing you on Nov. 3.

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