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The Recall Election | PROPOSITIONS 53 AND 54

Both Ballot Measures Go Down in Defeat

Backers say the racial data and infrastructure proposals were lost in the recall hysteria.

October 08, 2003|Rebecca Trounson and Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writers

Overshadowed by the gubernatorial recall campaign, two state ballot initiatives were resoundingly defeated Tuesday.

Proposition 53 would have amended the state Constitution to dedicate up to 3% of the state's main pool of taxes to modernize roads, bridges and other public structures. Proposition 54 would have stopped the state from collecting and using most racial and ethnic data.

Proponents said both measures were lost in the hubbub over the governor's recall.

"People naturally vote no on a proposition if they don't understand it or have any question about it," said Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge), coauthor of Proposition 53.

Supporters of that measure, including business groups and construction companies that could have benefited from an increase in building, argued that voters needed to act because the Legislature had failed to invest enough to ward off deterioration of basic government structures and to keep pace with California's swelling population.

Opponents argued that the mandates of Proposition 53 would divert money from schools and reduce the Legislature's flexibility as it tries to manage state finances.

"I think voters are telling the Legislature that they need to solve their problems, and mandating new spending is no solution to a budget in deep deficit," said Lenny Goldberg, executive director of the California Tax Reform Assn., which led opposition to the measure.

Proposition 53, which the Legislature placed on the ballot, got little attention before the election. Neither side aired television advertising until last week, when the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians donated $1.5 million for pro-Proposition 53 television ads that featured Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, a Democratic candidate for governor.

Starting in 2006, the measure would have set aside 1% of the general fund -- roughly $850 million -- for infrastructure, with the exact spending to be determined by the Legislature and local governments.

If state revenues grew steadily, the percentage of money dedicated to infrastructure would have increased until it reached a maximum of 3%. Eventually, the fund could have collected several billions of dollars a year.

Proposition 54 generated plenty of controversy in recent weeks but was upstaged by the recall as well. The outcome, widely predicted in recent polls, came as little surprise to those involved.

Ward Connerly, the Sacramento businessman who was Proposition 54's chief sponsor and author, said Tuesday that he had resigned himself to a probable loss from the moment in July when it became clear that the measure would share the ballot with the recall vote.

Connerly had wanted it to be on the March 2004 primary ballot, and the limited time for the campaign was one of several factors in its downfall, he said.

"It's very tough when you've got an 80-day campaign coming five months sooner than you expected, especially if you're running a grass-roots campaign," Connerly said.

"You have to be on TV all the time, and we didn't have the money to do that."

Opponents argued that the measure -- by suppressing information about race and ethnicity -- would undermine the state's hard-fought school reforms, make diseases tougher to track and treat, and hurt anti-discrimination efforts.

These critics, from civil rights activists to educators to public health researchers, said the goal of a colorblind society could not be achieved merely by removing information about race and ethnicity from public records, or by keeping the state from using it.

"This defeat represents the concerns of the public that this information is important to have when it relates to health care, public safety and the education of our children," said Elena Stern, spokeswoman for the Coalition for an Informed California, comprising groups opposed to the measure.

"The loss of that information would have impacted a broad spectrum of Californians across the state," she said. "We're very pleased with the result."

Connerly, a University of California regent, helped lead successful campaigns at the university and statewide in the 1990s to end the use of affirmative action at state agencies. He argued that Proposition 54 would help push the state toward a society where race didn't matter, or mattered less.

Connerly, who appeared Tuesday at a subdued election night party in Sacramento that drew 50 people at its height, said he was likely to try again, perhaps within a year or two.

But first, he said, he wanted to meet with medical and public health researchers to make sure their concerns were met.

"I think the language of Proposition 54 was a little convoluted, a little flawed, particularly on the health issue," Connerly said. "People are concerned about their health. And when they're in doubt about something as important as that, they're going to vote no.

"That was our Achilles' heel."

The measure was opposed by Gov. Gray Davis and all major candidates on the replacement ballot except Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock.

Proposition 54 would have prohibited the state and other public entities -- including local governments, colleges and universities -- from classifying individuals on the basis of race, ethnicity, color or national origin. It had several exemptions that would have allowed the continued collection of data to comply with federal law, to establish or maintain eligibility for federal programs, and for certain law enforcement and medical research purposes.

But concerns that the medical exemption was not broad enough proved a major stumbling block for the measure, according to supporters and critics alike.

Medical and public health experts strongly opposed the initiative, arguing that it would make diseases tougher to monitor, treat and prevent and could endanger some of those most at risk.

The researchers said they depended on information from vital statistics to understand why some groups are more at risk for certain illnesses and how disease spreads through a community.

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