Sure, it's a presidential election year, but in California, the hottest items on the March 7 ballot concern money and sex.
Proposition 1A would amend the California constitution to allow Indian tribes to earn more gambling money through casino-style betting on Indian lands. Nevada gambling interests, including Harrah's, have already cozied up to at least two tribes with a view to expanding their empires into the Golden State.
Proposition 22, by contrast, deals with the issue most dear to the homosexual political movement: gay marriage. Prop 22 would, if approved, grant no recognition to homosexual marriages performed in other states. Homosexual activists opposing the measure have recruited Judy Shepard, mother of slain Wyoming homosexual Matthew Shepard, to woo California voters with a message about hate and fear.
Together, Propositions 1A and 22 are two emotional lightning rods certain to light up a presidential primary that is itself unique in the nation. California's "blanket" primary law, adopted four years ago, allows voters to punch their ballots for any presidential candidate they choose, regardless of party affiliation. That means, for example, that centrist Democrats tired of the Clinton taint could vote for a GOP contender, while more liberal GOP voters could mark their ballots Mr. Gore's way. (Only GOP voters will be allowed to choose GOP delegates, though.) Analysts say crossover balloting may foreshadow the outcome of the general elections in November. For now though, 367 Democratic and 162 Republican convention delegates are at stake, more than in any other state.
As the countdown to March marches on, candidates are nervously watching the polls. But turnout is almost as important. These controversial ballot measures may draw out voters who wouldn't have otherwise bothered to go mark their ballots. Some analysts say Proposition 22, the marriage amendment, may draw more conservatives-and hence more GOP voters-to the polls in March. At the same time, Prop 22 may stimulate liberal turnout.
Proposition 22 adds 14 words to the state's constitution: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." The measure, introduced by state senator Pete Knight, is designed to protect the definition of the traditional family. While the California constitution already defines marriage as a "civil contract between a man and a woman," it also requires the state to recognize legal marriages in other states as valid. With Vermont already at the threshold of legal homosexual marriage, Golden State pro-family activists hope to cut off the flow of same-sex interstate nuptial traffic before it begins.
Nationally speaking, Proposition 22 is perhaps the most-watched initiative on the California ballot. Gay activists across the country fear that those 14 words would slam shut the door on same-sex marriage in a traditionally bellwether state. Conservatives feel a Prop 22 failure (or even a slim victory) could create a climate favorable to same-sex marriage in California and, if the bellwether rings true, the nation.
In an interview with The Advocate, a magazine for homosexuals, Fox Party of Five actor Mitchell Anderson said the battle to legalize gay marriage in California is already underway. "Some people think the fight for legalization of [gay] marriage is way down the line, and they don't want to spend time and energy and money," said the homosexual actor, who wants to legally marry his boyfriend. "My answer to that is, 'Too bad. It's here. It's now.'"
According to Mark Washburn, president of the pro-family Capitol Resource Institute in Sacramento, homosexual activists in the Golden State are already gathering signatures to amend the California constitution to legalize same-sex marriage. Previous efforts to redefine marriage at the ballot box have fallen short in Hawaii, Maine, and Alaska.
But in California, a series of pro-gay legislative victories may have tipped the scales in the other direction. Democratic governor Gray Davis (who ran from the center, but governs from the left) has signed into law measures that, among other things, establish taxpayer-funded "domestic partner" benefits for homosexual employees of the state, bar from state funds any school or organization that refuses to hire homosexuals, and require even employees of Christian-owned businesses to submit to homosexual "diversity training."
Mr. Washburn believes the quick advance of the gay agenda will motivate more California conservatives to sound off on election day. "There's concern in the faith community that a loss or narrow win for Prop 22 will be viewed by the other side as an opportunity," he says. Many conservatives believe that "if we're unable to validate the institution of marriage for what it is, then the other side will begin to try to validate it for what it's not."
Although initial surveys did not show a strong majority in favor of Prop 22, new data show support solidifying, with 57 percent supporting the measure and 36 percent opposed. As expected, gay activists are trotting out a hate-and-fear campaign style that has worked well in the past. But they aren't simply playing politics with inflammatory rhetoric; they've imported a grieving mother to play on heartstrings: Judy Shepard, Matthew's mom, has flown in from Wyoming to take the anti-22 message up and down the state. At a January press conference in San Francisco, Ms. Shepard told reporters that Prop 22 is grounded in the same kind of hatred and discrimination that motivated the two men who killed her son.
Supporters of Proposition 1A have made their issue a matter of life and death, too-a matter of economic survival. They say that if voters fail to amend the California constitution to permit Indians to operate Las Vegas-style casinos on tribal lands, Indian gaming could be shut down, stripping gambling tribes of economic self-reliance. In part, that is right: The National Gambling Impact Commission found that gaming has indeed produced positive economic results where government efforts to improve Indian economic conditions have failed.
What supporters don't say is that tribes have illegally operated casino-style gaming in California for years, while the state and federal governments turned a blind eye to the state's constitutional ban on such gaming. Prop 1A would legalize those illegal operations, permitting each tribe to open up to two casinos in the Golden State.
Opponents say that despite the short-term economic benefit of gambling, long-term problems result: They point to increases in gambling-related crime and addiction, and question the ethics of proliferating a practice known to increase both. In addition, No on 1A spokesman Leo McElroy points out a fact unknown to most: Federal Indian gaming rules allow tribes with regulatory approval to open casinos on off-reservation property. With more than 100 tribes in the state, the Golden State could quickly begin to resemble Las Vegas West, Mr. McElroy says.
Many observers predict 1A will pass on the sympathy-for-the-Indians vote alone. But Mr. McElroy, who also concedes that the measure will probably pass, says the real issue is money-for both the state government and Las Vegas casinos. He points out that Governor Davis has already agreed with numerous tribes on gambling compacts that send 1A-enabled proceeds back into state coffers. And Las Vegas gambling giants like Harrah's and Station Casinos are so confident of the measure's passage that they've already struck bargains with California tribes to open co-owned casinos.
Ironically, it was Nevada gambling interests that bankrolled a $25 million effort to crush Proposition 5, the 1998 ballot initiative from which 1A was cloned. Prop 5 passed handily, but was overturned by the California Supreme Court, which said the measure violated the state's constitution.
With ballot measures in play that attempt to define gambling and marriage in the state, that constitution may look like a different document after March 7. Meanwhile, the electoral romance is heating up as activists and would-be presidents vie to win the hearts of voters in that politically fickle state on the Left Coast.