Measure By Measure

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Ballot measures, most of them in the initiative-friendly western states, reflected a mostly conservative electorate on November 2. Here are some issues of interest to classical liberals and libertarians.

Marijuana was the big policy issue of 2010 — and it did not light the fires of approval.

In California, voters rejected Proposition 19, which would have legalized closet-sized cannabis grows and the possession of one ounce of marijuana by any adult. More important, it would have offered a local option for communities to legalize and tax cannabis much further. But the Obama administration, which has left alone the numerous medical cannabis dispensaries in California and the other medical-marijuana states, said it would not tolerate dispensaries for general use, nor open grows.

California pioneered medical marijuana in 1996 and remains the most liberal state regarding cannabis. A new law passed by the legislature takes effect January 1, making possession of less than an ounce a mere civil infraction rather than a criminal misdemeanor.

In Oregon, which also has medical marijuana, the people voted no on Measure 74, which would have created a system of private, nonprofit dispensaries and licensed farmers.

At press time, the count was split 50-50 on Arizona’s Proposition 203, which would have legalized medical cannabis and allowed dispensaries.

Voters in South Dakota rejected Measure 13, a bill to legalize medical marijuana.

The bottom line: cannabis remains legal for certain medical purposes in the District of Columbia and 14 states, but for general use is legal nowhere in the United States.

Liquor. In Washington state, one of the 19 “control states” in which the sale of liquor is a state monopoly, voters appear to have saved the state liquor stores from Initiative 1100, which would have disbanded them. The measure, which was put on the ballot by Costco and supported by Safeway and Wal-Mart, would also have repealed the state law that forbids beer and wine wholesalers from offering quantity discounts.

Beer distributors provided the money for a campaign to tar market liberalization as a threat to public sobriety and health. There was also a competing measure, Initiative 1105, which would have privatized liquor but kept the restrictive beer and wine rules, and the measure divided the anti-state vote. That vote was close, but at press time the state liquor stores appear to have been saved.

Smoking. South Dakota passed Referred Law 12, which bans smoking in bars and casinos, by a vote of almost two-thirds.

Affirmative action. Arizonavoters passed Proposition 107, the Arizona Civil Rights Amendment, by a strong yes vote. Like measures that passed California in 1996, Washington in 1998, Michigan in 2006, and Nebraska in 2008, it bans racial preferences in state and local employment, education, and contracting. Unlike earlier measures, it did not get much national attention.

Abortion. In Colorado, voters rejected by more than two-thirds Amendment 62 to establish “fetal personhood.” This had been on the ballot before, and had failed before.

Property rights. By a vote of about 2 to 1, Nevada voters rejected Question 4, a measure to create exceptions to the law passed in 2008 forbidding the taking of private property for sale to a private owner. Question 4 was put on the ballot by the legislature at the request of government officials. It would have allowed government to take private property and transfer it to a private owner who “uses the property primarily to benefit a public service.”

Labor organizing. There was an effort in four right-to-work states to sandbag the proposed “Employee Free Choice Act,” also known as card-check union organizing. Card-check didn’t go anywhere in 2010 or 2009 either, and with a Republican House of Representatives it is dead now. But opponents didn’t know that, and they proposed measures at the state level to guarantee citizens the right of secret ballot in union representation elections.

As attempts to nullify federal law, these proposals are of doubtful legality, but they do highlight public opinion if they pass — and these did.

In Arizona, unions sued to keep the measure off the ballot. They won a ruling to that effect, but Governor Jan Brewer countered them by calling a special session of the legislature, which rewrote the measure and put it on the ballot. As Proposition 113, it passed with 61% of the vote.

In South Dakota, unions sued to keep it off the ballot, and they lost. There it was called Amendment K, and it passed with 79% of the vote.

In Utah it was called Amendment A, and passed with 60% of the vote.

In South Carolina it was called Amendment 2 and passed with 86% of the vote.

Health insurance was another issue in which state ballot propositions were used to send a political message about a federal law — in this case, a bill Congress had passed and President Obama had signed. These measures were of doubtful legality, assuming the new law itself passed constitutional muster (it is in several courts). Think of these state measures not as law but as a political demonstration.

They were measures forbidding government from requiring citizens to buy health insurance or to pay for health services out of their own pockets.

In Missouri, a measure like this, Proposition C, had passed in August with a 71% vote.

On Nov. 2, it passed in Oklahoma as Question 756, the Health Care Freedom Amendment. Despite opposition from The Oklahoman newspaper, it passed with 65% of the vote.

In Arizona, as Proposition 106, it passed with about 55% of the vote, though it was opposed by the largest newspaper, the Arizona Republic.

In Colorado, as Amendment 63, sponsored by the Independence Institute, it was opposed by the largest paper there, the Denver Post, and narrowly failed.

Taxes. California voters passed Proposition 26, an initiated constitutional amendment that requires a supermajority for the legislature to raise taxes. Voters also passed Proposition 25, which repealed the requirement that the legislature have a supermajority to pass a budget. The supermajority rule had led to deadlock over the budget, and a state funding crisis.

Washington voters passed Initiative 1053, which also requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature, or a vote of the people, for the state to raise taxes. Washington does not have initiated constitutional amendments; the two-thirds rule is merely a statute. It will stand for two years before the legislature can vote by simple majority to suspend it — which is what the Legislature did earlier in 2010 to an identical measure passed by voters in 2007.

Washington voters rejected Initiative 1098, which would have created a state income tax for high earners only. The preliminary count was nearly 2-to-1 against.

Campaign finance. Floridavoters gave a majority to Amendment 1, to repeal the state’s system of public finance for statewide political candidates who agree to spending limits. It was a constitutional amendment, however, and failed to receive the required 60% approval to pass.

Guns. Kansas voters passed Constitutional Amendment Question 1 with an 88 % approval. This replaced a provision in the state constitution guaranteeing “the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and state” with a measure guaranteeing gun rights “for lawful hunting and recreational use, and for any other lawful purpose.”

Several other states passed measures establishing a citizen’s right to hunt.

Weird stuff. Three things this year.

The first is Oklahoma State Question 755, a constitutional amendment put on the ballot through the efforts of Rep. Rex Duncan, Republican of Sand Springs. Rep. Duncan is worried about Islamic Sharia law coming to Oklahoma, and wrote the measure, which forbids Oklahoma courts from considering or using Sharia law or international law. His proposal to protect Oklahomans from the strictures of Islam won 70% approval.

In Michigan, where former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has been disgraced, convicted, and put in prison, voters approved by 3-to-1 Proposal 2. It bars any officeholder convicted of a felony involving deceit and fraud from holding public office for 20 years — a much longer time than Kilpatrick is likely to spend in the clink.

And in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations — that is its full name — 78% of voters rejected a proposal to reduce its official name to “Rhode Island,” which is what the rest of us thought it was.

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