Election Roundup: Voters Show Some Initiative

While the Democrats were recapturing the Senate and many of you were scratching your heads in the voting booth, trying to decide between tweedledum and tweedledumber, voters in a number of states once again had the opportunity to bypass the pols and take government matters into their own hands through the initiative process. The results were mixed but not depressing.

Perhaps the most quixotic, radical initiatives to advance individual liberty were on the ballot in Oregon and Montana. Oregonians had a chance to legalize the private possession and use of marijuana. Despite an energetic and well-funded campaign based on "free choice and the principles of the Constitution," as one supporter put it, the Oregon Marijuana Initiative went down to a 3-to-l defeat.

In Montana, an intrepid quartet of elderly sisters from the western town of Corvallis scared the daylights out of establishment politicians and sententious editorial writers with their campaign for Constitutional Initiative 27. The measure would have abolished all property taxes in the state and subjected all proposed income and sales-tax increases to a statewide vote. Alas, the Montana initiative, which the Wall Street Journal labeled perhaps "the nation's most radical tax initiative ever," lost by 56-44 percent. A much more cautious measure freezing property taxes did pass, though.

And in general the news on the tax-revolt front was upbeat. In three states, according to the Wall Street Journal, tax issues were decisive in gubernatorial races. In Texas and Wisconsin, incumbent Democratic governors were ousted by Republicans who promised to hold the line on taxes (Texas, in spite of a budget deficit) or to lower the property tax (Wisconsin). In New Hampshire, Republican Gov. John Sununu charged that his challenger would impose an income tax; his opponent didn't deny the charge, and Sununu carried the day.

Meanwhile, although no tax-cut initiatives passed in 1982 or 1984, in November's elections tax measures frequently carried the day. Fed-up residents of Taxachusetts, who slashed property taxes in 1980, this time repealed a 7 percent income-tax surcharge and adopted a statespending cap. (Alaskans voted to keep their four-year-old spending limit.) Coloradans rejected a proposal to require voter approval of tax increases at all levels of state and local government, but their confreres in California supported a less-sweeping measure making some local taxes subject to popular vote. For the eighth time in 53 years Oregonians rejected a sales tax; on the other hand, they turned down a property-tax-slashing measure. And in West Virginia, tax raisers failed to win voter approval of a 1 percent increase in the sales tax.

Other individual-liberty issues fared well. In Kansas, voters approved constitutional amendments legalizing the sale of liquor by the drink and permitting betting on horse and dog races.

Five new racetracks are now on the drawing board. (Nothin' beats takin' a belt of likker and playin' the greyhounds, eh boys?) Voters in two states, Massachusetts and Nebraska, revolted against the latest fetish of our social engineers, mandatory seatbelt laws. The Nebraska vote was so close, winning by 561 votes out of more than 500,000 cast, that it was called the other way in early reports. (And who says money buys elections? Nebraskans for Safety, the group advocating the compulsory chaining of adults to their automobiles, spent $134,000 on advertising in a losing effort. Citizens Against Mandatory Seat Belts, by contrast, spent $700.)

Other highs and lows in America's annual exercise in democracy:

  • Voters in New Mexico and West Virginia affirmed the right of citizens to keep and bear arms.
  • State lotteries, which some claim are a promising method of "voluntary funding" of government, were approved in Montana, Kansas, Florida, Idaho, and South Dakota. North Dakotans said ixnay to any otterylay. (They also wouldn't take Sunday "blue laws" off the books.)
  • Vermont voters rejected a state equal rights amendment by a close 52-48 percent.
  • Idaho voters elected to retain that state's right-to-work law, which says that union membership may not be required as a condition of employment.
  • Oregonians defeated attempts to make their state a "nuclearfree zone" and to shut down a nuclear-power plant.
  • Californians rejected a demand by LaRouchies that AIDS victims be quarantined. But they approved a xenophobia-inspired initiative making English the state's official language.

As with life, two steps forward, one step back.

Red Model Driving Away Green Buyers

One of the more interesting political trends of the last decade has been the environmentalist movement's drift from its erstwhile socialist allies. The most dramatic example of this split is found in West Germany's Green Party, which is being riven by conflict between standard brand socialists and "eco-libertarians," who reject centrally controlled economies and espouse a communitarian individualism, or voluntarism.

American environmentalists, too, are taking a fresh look at socialism's deficiencies. The latest evidence that markets need not be Mother Earth's enemies comes from a report by William U. Chandler, a senior researcher at the Washington, D.C.-based World watch Institute.

"The issue is not socialism versus capitalism," writes Chandler, but rather "how the irreplaceable resources-water, air, soil, and fish and wildlife-can be adequately conserved." He proceeds to compare the records of market economies with those of state-controlled economies and finds the former superior by those measures most important to environmentalists.

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