Dazzled by Hollywood star power and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's political muscle, Californians on Tuesday approved taxpayer-funded embryonic stem-cell research. But they defeated initiatives that would have mandated employer-paid healthcare and softened the state's three-strikes law, releasing thousands of felons from prison.
Golden Staters were among voters in 34 states who delivered a thumbs-up or -down on a combined 163 local referenda and ballot measures ranging from medical and economic concerns to social issues like gay marriage and abortion.
Fifty-nine percent of California voters said yes to Proposition 71, a $3 billion bond measure to support public funding of embryonic stem-cell research. The measure will cost another $3 billion in interest over 30 years.
California television viewers in October weathered saturation advertising featuring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Reeve, and children afflicted with diseases, all of whom expressed hope that stem-cell research would cure them. "There was a lot of emotionalism tied to this issue," said California Family Council director Karen Holgate. "People who voted for 71 wanted to do something to help people. But they didn't understand they were voting for clone-and-kill legislation."
Though Prop 71 authors didn't use the word cloning in the initiative, the measure does fund the cloning-and destruction-of human embryos. "Prop 71 had turned human beings into commodities, valuable scientific material, and that's a very dangerous step," said Christian Medical Association president David Stevens. "Science has always gotten into trouble when it has adopted a utilitarian ethic-that a little bit of 'bad' is OK as long as it's for the 'greater good.'"
Californians rejected by only a whisper an initiative that would have required employers to provide workers' health insurance and pay 80 percent of the premiums. Opponents had argued that Prop 72, which by 2007 would have phased in the mandate for companies with as few as 20 employees, would drive jobs and businesses out of California-and trigger a nationwide wave of similar measures.
In other votes across the country:
• Citizens in 11 states approved amendments to ban same-sex marriage by margins as high as 86 percent.
• South Dakotans declined to scrap the sales tax on groceries, while Maine voters rejected a property tax cap after unions argued that the initiative would force layoffs of teachers and firefighters. Arizonans passed a measure that will require people seeking social services such as welfare to show proof of citizenship.
• Oklahomans agreed to a new lottery, buying the argument that its proceeds would benefit education. "Education is a weak link in Oklahoma," said Mike Jestes, executive director of the Oklahoma Family Policy Council. "The people here were misled into thinking the lottery is going to solve the problem. They lost sight of the moral impact that gambling can have on a family."
But voters in Washington, Michigan, and Nebraska nixed expanded gambling. Floridians appeared to block a proposal for more legalized slot machines, but the narrow margin-18,000 votes out of nearly 7 million cast-triggered a recount. And Californians rejected two measures that would have broadened Native American gaming, including one that sought to prohibit the state from renegotiating tribal gambling compacts for 99 years.
• Floridians passed a measure that will allow state legislators to craft a parental notification law on abortion. Voters approved it by a whopping two-thirds margin.