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ELECTION 2008 : California Elections

Voters are divided on state ballot measures

November 06, 2008|Eric Bailey and Michael Rothfeld | Bailey and Rothfeld are Times staff writers

SACRAMENTO — It was a good day for chickens and children's hospitals, but not for alternative-fuel vehicles and Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens. A law-enforcement funding measure fell flat, but a proposition restricting parole was victorious.

Voters may have banned same-sex marriage, but they rejected a measure that would have required parents to be notified before a girl could obtain an abortion. And they turned down several big-ticket funding initiatives while backing the most expensive of them, a nearly $10-billion bond to build a bullet train.

With all but a few results in on Wednesday, the reliably quirky Golden State electorate proved that ballot-box lawmaking lives on here -- with a scattershot flair.

Was it the clutter of TV ads? The plethora of first-time voters? The phases of the moon?

"This is just one of those times you say, hey, voters are unpredictable," said Ken Khachigian, a Republican strategist.

The outcome of Proposition 4, the parental notification measure that lost a tight race with 52% opposed, might have seemed preordained -- it was the third time such a proposal had been on the statewide ballot since 2005.

But this was the year of Proposition 8, the white-hot battle that instituted a new ban on same-sex marriage. Proposition 8 drew social conservatives to the polls and scored a victory but failed to provide coattails for Proposition 4.

Undeterred, boosters of parental notification say a fourth attempt at the ballot box is inevitable.

"The only questions are exactly when, exactly where and exactly how," said Don Sebastiani, a vintner and former state lawmaker who was one of the measure's top backers.

More than 53% of voters gave a nod to Proposition 9, the only winner among three initiatives related to the criminal justice system. Proposition 9 boosts crime victims' rights while reducing the number of parole hearings. Now it could face a different test -- legal challenges from advocates for inmates.

Opponents say the initiative -- funded with $4.8 million from Broadcom co-founder Henry Nicholas III, a billionaire who is under indictment on federal fraud, conspiracy and drug charges -- will raise incarceration costs by keeping inmates behind bars. Backers counter that it will save the state money by cutting down on parole hearings.

It requires the state parole board to deny parole to inmates serving possible life sentences for 15 years, three times the current maximum, unless there is "clear and convincing evidence" that a hearing should be held sooner.

"These are prisoners who had the hope and the expectation . . . they'd actually be able to rejoin their families one day," said Keith Wattley, an Oakland attorney.

The initiative also conflicts with a federal court settlement reached by the Schwarzenegger administration by taking away the right to a state-paid lawyer for every ex-convict who is accused of violating parole and facing a return to prison.

L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who opposed the measure, said "huge chunks" of it might be ruled unconstitutional.

Harriet Salarno, chairwoman of Crime Victims United, said she welcomes a requirement that prosecutors keep relatives notified as criminal cases develop.

It also lets family members of victims speak without interruption at parole hearings. Relatives can also refuse to turn over evidence or cooperate with defense attorneys before trial.

Meanwhile, 60% of voters said no to Proposition 5, which promised treatment as an alternative to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders. Another measure, Proposition 6, which called for nearly $1 billion in annual law-enforcement spending, was the ballot's biggest flop. Nearly 70% voted against it.

And voters in a state known as a bastion of environmentalism turned down Proposition 7, a renewable-energy measure opposed by 65%. Proposition 10, the alternative-fuel measure pushed by Pickens -- a potential beneficiary as the founder of a natural gas business -- was rejected by 60%.

Two bond measures that engendered little heat before election day sailed to victory. Proposition 3, a $980-million bond to buff up children's hospitals, captured nearly 55% of the vote. Proposition 12, $900 million in bonds for low-cost home and farm purchases by military veterans, grabbed more than 63%.

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eric.bailey@latimes.com

michael.rothfeld@latimes.com

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