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Gay Marriage Ban, Gaming Measure OKd

Tougher sanctions for violent juveniles also are approved. But campaign donation curb is rejected.


Californians on Tuesday approved an emotion-packed initiative banning recognition of gay marriages, a major expansion of casino gambling on Indian reservations and tough sanctions against juveniles who commit violent crimes.

An initiative to limit campaign donations was rejected, and the vote remained close on a measure to make it easier for school districts to finance school construction.

The insurance industry won a high-priced fight with trial lawyers to repeal legislation signed into law last year by Gov. Gray Davis permitting more lawsuits against insurance companies. Voters also reaffirmed their support of a 50-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes to fund a variety of child education and health programs.

Bond measures funding parks, water projects, library construction and veterans homes also had large leads.

'Altogether, voters decided on 20 measures, including five bond measures and five other propositions placed on the ballot by the Legislature. Moneyed interests, wealthy individuals and ambitious politicians paid professional petition circulators anywhere from 50 cents to $4 per signature to qualify the 10 other measures.

The price tag for direct democracy was more than $150 million. Well-heeled campaigns spent more than $1 million a week to sway voters. The $150 million--a figure totaled by the California Voter Foundation--falls short of the record sums spent in November 1998. But as a group, the March 2000 initiatives will be among the most expensive.

"The TV stations were the big winners. It's just getting more and more expensive," said Bob Stern, a campaign finance expert and president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles.

The ballot's most costly campaign was the one between two of the wealthiest interests involved in politics: the insurance industry and trial lawyers.

Insurers spent more than $50 million to defeat Propositions 30 and 31, two measures they had placed on the ballot. Both propositions mirrored state laws backed by trial lawyers to give injured automobile accident victims the right to sue the at-fault driver's insurance company when it failed to offer a satisfactory settlement.

Unable to kill the proposals when they were under consideration in the Legislature last year, insurers put them on the ballot and asked the voters to do it instead.

Third-party liability has been a burning issue in the state Capitol for decades. Insurance companies contended that by allowing such lawsuits, motorists could end up paying 15% more for car insurance.

"We think the pocketbook resonated most powerfully with the voters," said Dan Dunmoyer, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California and one of the chief insurance strategists. "The message of paying more for auto insurance was a message that the voters believed."

The lawyers had sought to fight back with ads depicting insurers as wolves attempting to overturn California law. But their $6.5-million campaign allowed them only limited air time.

As much as the insurance companies spent, the cost of the fight fell short of the record for a single initiative set in 1998, when casino-owning Indian tribes squared off against out-of-state gambling corporations. The Proposition 5 campaign to legalize and expand gambling on tribal land cost almost $90 million.

Proposition 5 won by a landslide but was struck down by the California Supreme Court. The high court ruling prompted the tribes and Gov. Davis to enter into negotiations last fall that led to Proposition 1A.

Just as they did in 1998, California's Indian tribes won big, garnering a lopsided victory for Proposition 1A to legalize casinos and Nevada-style slot machines on tribal land.

"Californians . . . have shown their understanding and willingness to stand behind the notion that tribes for too long haven't had a fair hand dealt to them," said Richard Milanovich, chairman of the Agua Caliente tribe, which operates a casino in downtown Palm Springs and plans a significant expansion.

This time, Indian tribes raised $23.6 million, although they faced limited organized opposition. Davis and almost the entire Legislature supported the measure, andseveral Nevada-based casino corporations have struck deals to help tribes manage, operate and market tribal casinos.

Proposition 1A grants tribes exclusive constitutional authority to operate casinos in California.

As part of an agreement between Davis and the tribes, the governor says Indians would have the right to operate 45,000 slot machines--up from the almost 19,000 quasi-slot machines they have now. Critics have countered that the agreement could permit as many as 113,000 slot machines--more than any state other than Nevada.

Former Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy, one of the few public figures opposed to expanding gambling on tribal land, contended that the additional slot machines will lead to a doubling of gambling addicts in California.

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