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California and the West

Propositions May Crowd Next Ballot

Politics: Backers are seeking to put 37 initiatives before voters in November, including another one on gay marriage. Legislators may add some too.


SACRAMENTO — Eyes still strained from reading the 20 propositions on last week's voluminous primary ballot? All that direct democracy wearing you down?

Well, you may not like what lurks around the corner, because a similarly large number of propositions could await voters in November.

Petitioners, many employing mercenaries, are canvassing for signatures on 37 proposed ballot measures pushing everything from legalizing gay marriage to extending the hours that bars can serve alcohol.

One initiative dealing with public works contracts has already qualified for the ballot, and six more are awaiting approval from the state attorney general before proponents can begin petitioning. They include attempts to institute school voucher programs and to repeal Proposition 209, the 1996 measure that banned affirmative action in state hiring and university admissions.

Adding to the list, legislators are considering directly placing several measures of their own before voters as they seek to address such weighty issues as the growing shortage of low-cost housing in the state.

Many--some say most--of the initiatives will die quietly before the fall. Some, like longshot bids to repeal the death penalty and criminalize spousal infidelity, already have.

But after the final John Hancocks are counted, and the Legislature has its say, the number of propositions on the November ballot could rival last week's, and possibly even make a run at the record set in 1988, when 28 statewide measures awaited voters.

At the top of the heap are three political reform initiatives by California's top Republican, Secretary of State Bill Jones. All figure to generate a buzz.

One would require two-thirds approval from both houses of the Legislature before the boundaries for state and federal political districts in California could be redrawn. That change would seriously empower the GOP, which has been relegated to minority status in both the Assembly and Senate and is concerned that it could lose more clout if the Democrat-controlled Legislature manipulated the redistricting process to its benefit after the 2000 census.

Another, related initiative would create a 17-member commission to redraw the boundaries for seats in Congress, the Assembly and Senate and on the state Board of Equalization. Legislative leaders would appoint all but one of the commission's members, who would then be appointed by the commission itself.

The third initiative, yet another effort to curb campaign contributions in California, would limit the amount a person could give each year to $25,000 per party, $10,000 per statewide candidate and $5,000 per legislative contender. Those amounts would then be adjusted to reflect changes in the consumer price index, beginning in 2003. Ballot-measure committees would be exempted, so million-dollar donations to campaigns aimed at sidestepping the Legislature and going directly to voters would continue unfettered.

Despite the defeat last week of Proposition 26, which would have reduced the number of votes needed to pass a school bond measure from two-thirds to a simple majority, the California Teachers Assn. is going to try its luck again in the fall.

The powerful union, which has proved time and again that it can spend more than $10 million on propositions, is pressing ahead with a November initiative that would require Gov. Gray Davis and the Legislature to push California's school spending to the national average.

John Hein, the CTA's chief lobbyist, said the union will place the proposition before voters although Davis opposes it. Davis contends that such a requirement would cost about $6 billion, and could not happen without a tax increase. Hein said that, given the state budget surplus, California should be able to increase school spending without cutting other programs and without hiking taxes.

But "if there aren't sufficient revenues, the Legislature would have to increase taxes other than property taxes," Hein said.

Likewise, despite last week's overwhelming passage of Proposition 22, which strengthened California's ban on gay marriage, gay activists are floating an initiative that would amend the state Constitution to allow same-sex marriages.

Without money, most initiatives have little chance of making the ballot in California. But with huge infusions of cash, almost anything does.

"It's the nature of the business," said Sam H. Clauder II, a professional petition gatherer in Orange County who is pushing an initiative to limit California's three-strikes law to those who commit serious felonies. "I predict of all these measures, only eight or nine will make the ballot."

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