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California Elections / PROPOSITIONS : Tobacco Industry Power May Go Up in Smoke, Foes Say


In handing cigarette makers a crushing defeat at the polls, California voters again showed their deep distrust of the $45-billion-a-year industry and prompted anti-tobacco activists on Wednesday to question its future as a major player in the state's politics.

The tobacco industry, led by Philip Morris U.S.A., doled out $18 million in an effort to win passage of Proposition 188, outspending opponents 18 to 1. But for all that money, television time and direct mail, tobacco garnered less than 30% of the vote. Proposition 188 led in early polls, but support plummeted as voters realized it was funded by the tobacco companies.

The industry's lopsided loss on the initiative aimed at repealing California's smoking restrictions means that a legislatively approved ban on smoking in restaurants and most other indoor workplaces will go into effect across the state Jan. 1. The law complements local smoking bans in dozens of cities and counties.

David Laufer, a Philip Morris executive in Sacramento, insisted that despite the loss, "we're not going to walk away." Philip Morris, he said, remains "committed to seeking a more equitable solution to this issue."

But Jack Nicholl, who ran the anti-188 campaign, proclaimed: "They have no place to go. They will continue to lobby, but . . . they've got no future in California. They're going to be a marginal influence."

Adding to the sting of Tuesday's defeat, Arizona voters approved a 40-cent-a-pack tax on cigarettes. That tax is similar to Proposition 99, passed by California voters in 1988, which added a 25-cent-a-pack tax on cigarettes. Voters in several California cities have turned down tobacco-backed attempts to repeal anti-smoking ordinances.

While voters buried the high-priced Proposition 188, they approved by a 72%-28% margin Proposition 184, the "three strikes" sentencing law. Backers of that measure raised $1.6 million, a relatively small sum for a California campaign.

But the "three strikes" initiative was in the mold of the anti-tax Proposition 13 in 1978, the anti-crime "victims' bill of rights" Proposition 8 in 1982 and the anti-illegal immigration Proposition 187 this year. What backers of these measures lacked in money to run slick campaigns they more than made up for in emotional appeal and timing.

"When you have something that is topical with the voters, you don't need a lot of money to get it passed," said Mike Reynolds, the Fresno photographer who pushed for the law aimed at locking up repeat felons after his daughter was murdered in 1992.

Voters turned down three of the five citizen-generated propositions on Tuesday's ballot, following a longtime pattern of rejecting two-thirds of such measures. Voters also reinforced a more recent trend--refusing to approve bonds for public works projects. Voters overwhelmingly turned down Proposition 181, a $1-billion bond for rail lines.

They also decisively defeated Proposition 185, the environmentalist Planning and Conservation League's proposed 4% sales tax on gasoline to pay for mass transit. The group also lost a $2-billion parks bond initiative in June. Several school construction bonds have met similar fates in recent elections.

"The voters were not just saying no on taxes, they were saying, 'What part of no don't you understand?' " said Gerald Meral, the Planning and Conservation League's executive director. "This is the first year in decades . . . that voters have approved no bonds."

Voters' unwillingness to approve long-term debt in the form of bonds for public works projects may hamper California's ability to build new prisons to house the thousands of felons who will be sent to prison annually under the "three strikes" sentencing law.

The Department of Corrections estimates that the prison population, now 126,000, will grow to more than 230,000 by the year 2000, largely because of "three strikes." Corrections officials have called for $6 billion worth of bonds to finance construction of 25 new prisons between now and the turn of the century.

Among the other ballot measures, voters also overwhelmingly approved Proposition 190, which makes a major change in the system of disciplining the state's 1,500 judges.

The Commission on Judicial Performance will now have a majority of non-judges reviewing complaints against judges, and proceedings will become public earlier in the process.

A constant among the propositions this November was that all of them--from well-known initiatives such as Proposition 187 and mundane ones such as Proposition 183, which changes an obscure provision in the Constitution dealing with special elections--either won or lost by lopsided margins. A close race was not to be had.

Times staff writer Alan Abrahamson contributed to this report.

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