If voters are irate, scores of ballot measures may let them say so Tuesday

November 04, 1994|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Voters in state after state, supposedly angry about the way politicians have been doing things, will get a chance next week to say what's on their minds as scores of ballot measures are put to a vote.

If this is the year of the discontented voter, that sentiment is likely to show up in balloting on about 75 measures with statewide impact, along with several times that number proposed for counties and cities.

Term limits for members of Congress, one of the strongest expressions of voter displeasure in recent years, are among the hottest ballot ideas. Social issues such as abortion, homosexuality, immigration, suicide and crime loom large, too.

Although many fights over ballot issues are waged independently of candidate contests, that is not so with one measure in California: Proposition 187. That proposal would take away most social services that illegal immigrants receive: child welfare, free education, some health care. The measure has become a flash point in the Senate campaign between Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, who opposes it, and Rep. Michael Huffington, the Republican challenger, who favors it.

The anti-crime mood, reflected in many candidate campaigns, is echoed in the ballot measures. Voters will vote on 21 statewide measures that have some bearing on crime.

Legislation by direct action of voters appears to have gained in popularity as many voters have grown increasingly distrustful of elected officials. As Kenneth Mulligan of the conservative Free Congress Foundation remarked: "Ballot questions cut out the middle man, allowing working people to decide for themselves how they wish to be governed."

Someone's pet idea can get on the ballot if enough others sign petitions for it -- as with a proposal in Alaska to move the capital from Juneau to Wasilla, or the suggestion in Georgia to exempt blueberry plants from taxation, or the Oklahoma proposal to let wineries use grapes, fruits and berries grown in other states.

Some recurring issues are also on ballots again -- like the anti-abortion referendum in Wyoming, and a plethora of pro- and anti-gambling measures and pro- and anti-tax issues in many states.

The term limits issue is back, with attempts to force out long-term members of Congress on the ballot in eight states, keeping that idea moving along at a record pace.

After the voting is over next Tuesday, 22 of the 23 states that allow petition-signers to put that issue on a ballot are expected to have endorsed ceilings on the terms their members of Congress may serve. (The 23rd state, Mississippi, will vote on the idea in 1995, apparently making term limits the first proposal ever to get onto the ballot in every state where voters could demand it.)

Few political analysts doubt that the eight states' term-limit proposals will be approved next week. Routinely, such measures get 60 percent or more of the vote.

Still, for all the popular steam behind this idea, the curbs on congressional terms may yet be doomed. On Nov. 29, the Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the constitutionality of those measures.

Such a ruling, however, might serve to energize efforts to get a new constitutional amendment, to impose term limits on

members of Congress in every state -- if such an amendment could pass Congress.

Even if term limits for Congress do not survive, despite voter approval, limits on terms of state, county and city officials appear to be in no constitutional danger. After Nov. 8, the organization U.S. Term Limits estimates, 20 states will have legislatures with term limits, 40 governors will be "term-limited," and 39 states will have at least one local government with term limits in place.

In Washington, D.C., voters will consider a two-term limit for the mayor, members of the City Council and school board members. Baltimore voters were on the verge of considering term limits for the mayor, city comptroller and 19 City Council members, but that proposal has been knocked off the ballot.

Some proposals on this issue are particularly stern. If Massachusetts voters approve term limits, many officials who have served the maximum number of terms could not get on the ballot, yet still could run as write-in candidates. But if they used that method and won, they would have to serve without pay.

Among other issues, one of the most hotly disputed is Measure 16 in Oregon. It would make that state the first to make doctor-assisted suicide legal for the terminally ill. It is an issue that has risen to prominence after the series of suicides aided by Dr. Jack Kevorkian in Michigan.

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