The voters certainly sent mixed messages on November 8, making George Bush president while increasing the Democratic majority in Congress. A look at the initiatives and referenda on state ballots only confirms this confusion.
Bush promised "no new taxes," and Nevada voters seemed to like the idea. They prohibited the legislature from creating a state income tax. But in neighboring Utah, voters soundly rejected initiatives to cap state spending and cut taxes. To make things even more confusing, Utah voters overwhelmingly went for Bush.
Nebraska voters approved an amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing citizens the right to bear arms. The amendment prevents local ordinances banning handguns. But across the country in Maryland, voters upheld a statewide ban on small, inexpensive handguns; urban voters tended to go for the ban, while suburban and rural residents opposed it.
Montanans refused to overturn a law requiring drivers to wear seatbelts. But Oregon voters defeated an initiative that mandated seatbelts. Smoking was another hot topic on the Oregon ballot. A ban on smoking in public places failed, but a measure to hike the cigarette tax passed.
California voters turned thumbs down on a proposition that would have required doctors to report to public health officials the names of anyone testing positive for the HIV virus. The proposal also would have forced anyone who has the virus to provide a list of sex partners. Voters then turned around and approved another proposition that requires suspects in sex crimes and some violent crimes to be tested for the virus.
Californians further confirmed their image of political instability with a series of insurance initiatives. They rejected one that would have cut auto insurance rates 20 percent for good drivers and another to slash bodily-injury and uninsured-motorist rates by half. On the other hand, voters approved a proposition that reduces all property and casualty insurance rates 20 percent. Californians rejected a move to ban limits on attorneys' fees in accident settlements. But they also refused to approve an initiative that would have limited attorneys' fees.
As H.L. Mencken once observed, democracy is the theory that the people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The People Have Spoken".