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DECISION '98 / THE FINAL COUNT

Preferences, Laws Against Pot Lose Out in Some States

Propositions: Washington voters end most affirmative action programs, and four states, District of Columbia vote to allow medicinal marijuana use.

November 05, 1998|KIM MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEATTLE — Washington, where minorities hold some of the top political reins of power, has become just the second state in the nation to end most of its affirmative action programs. Advocates hope Tuesday's vote will reignite the move to end race-based preferences across the country.

The overwhelming approval of Initiative 200, worded nearly identically to the ballot proposition that sharply curtailed affirmative action in California, prompted the University of Washington to announce it would immediately take steps to end the use of race and sex as admission factors.

Gov. Gary Locke, a Chinese American who opposed the initiative, said he will form an advisory group to examine hiring practices at all state agencies, but he vowed to seek continuation of recruitment and outreach programs.

Opponents--financed by some of the state's largest companies--substantially outspent backers of the initiative, but in the end they could not prevail over a growing sentiment against race-based preferences in a state that is 86% white.

"The size of tonight's victory will undoubtedly inspire legislation and initiatives and referendums in other states," John Carlson, a conservative talk show host who chaired the campaign, told supporters. "This is a movement whose time has come. It's not just for Washington or California. It's for the whole United States."

Ward Connerly, the California businessman and UC regent who helped lead the drives in both states, said supporters likely will turn next to Michigan, Nebraska and the city of Houston in their campaign to end affirmative action--the 3-decade-old network of laws that has gained minorities greater representation in the work force and the classroom and has fueled the development of a black middle class.

Washington voters also blazed new ground Tuesday with an initiative that will raise the state's minimum wage by permanently linking it to increases in the rate of inflation.

Along with Colorado voters, Washington rejected an attempt to ban the late-term "partial-birth" abortion procedure, a measure critics said could have effectively banned most abortions in the state because of its imprecise wording.

Elsewhere in the country, the drive to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes gained a substantial boost with approval of measures in four states and the District of Columbia--initiatives that were among more than 230 ballot measures before voters in Tuesday's elections.

Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Nevada all approved tightly worded legalization measures that contain strict limits on dosages and patient eligibility designed to get around the problems that have plagued implementation of California's medical marijuana initiative.

And in Massachusetts and Arizona, voters approved two landmark campaign finance reform measures that provide public funding to candidates who take little or no private money and who agree to limit their spending.

"While reform is stuck between a rock and a hard place here in Washington [D.C.], the states are taking the lead in enacting sweeping changes. . . . The new conventional wisdom must be that it is the Congress, and not campaign finance reformers, who are out of touch with the sentiments of voters," said Ellen Miller, executive director of Public Campaign, which has advocated "clean money" ballot measures.

Both Alaska and Hawaii overwhelmingly approved restrictions on gay marriages in a drive given substantial financial support by the Mormon church. (At the other end of the country, voters in the small seaside community of South Portland, Maine, extended civil-rights protections to gays and lesbians.)

Alaska also joined the growing list of states adopting English as an official language--a measure widely criticized in the Native Alaskan community as an attempt to roll back the reemergence of native tongues in public discourse.

And in Oregon, which traditionally has been a leader in landmark ballot initiatives, voters elected to abandon the polling place altogether and conduct all future elections by mail. The state has experimented with vote-by-mail in a number of recent elections, and about half of those who voted Tuesday used absentee ballots.

Oregon voters also were approving a measure to give adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates, expanding to three the number of states that do not guarantee secrecy to mothers who elect to give up their babies.

Michigan voters rejected a move to join Oregon as the only state legalizing physician-assisted suicide. The measure was so restrictive on doctors and patients that even Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the nation's leading advocate of the practice, opposed it.

It was Washington's affirmative action measure, however, that attracted most of the attention. Proponents hope the successful effort will fuel similar initiatives and, perhaps, new momentum in Congress to end affirmative action on the federal level.

The nearly 60% voter support for the measure was all the more surprising given the strong Democratic tide that swept much of the other balloting. Of the five new congressional seats picked up by Democrats, two are from Washington state. Democrats also regained control of the Washington state Senate and possibly the House.

"People voted for it because we got our message through very clear, and that is that this is about equality," said Connerly, who heads the Sacramento-based American Civil Rights Coalition.

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