Throw The Bums Out, And Other Great Initiatives

On Nov. 3, voters in Colorado will be asked to protect lactating bears and their cubs by outlawing the 61-day spring bear-hunting season. The ballot initiative pits CUB--Coloradans United for Bears--against Coloradans for Wildlife Conservation (CWC), made up of hunters and backed by the National Rifle Assn. "God gave us dominion over the animals," argues CWC Treasurer Larry E. Strohl. Counters CUB Treasurer Michael L. Smith: "If you kill the nursing mother, the cubs have no way to survive."

Politicians in some 15 states may soon have reason to envy those mama bears. At least somebody is on their side.

In any election year, ballot initiatives are a useful barometer of public concerns. In 1982, as the Reagan Administration was rattling its saber at the "evil empire," voters in 11 states nervously pondered a nuclear freeze. This year, hostility toward politicians is the dominant theme. Among the popular subplots: attempts at relatively painless tax hikes, bids to curb the rights of homosexuals, and drives to make Corporate America greener and cleaner.

The big losers are likely to be elected officials: Term limitation is on the ballot in 15 of the 23 states that allow citizen initiatives. Typical is Florida's "Eight is Enough" amendment, limiting top state and federal officials to eight consecutive years in office.

And there's no shortage of contentious social issues. Most notable are antigay measures in Oregon and Colorado. Oregon's Ballot Measure Nine asks voters to condemn homosexuality as "abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse." It not only eliminates sexual orientation as a basis for affirmative-action hiring but requires the state and public schools to discourage homosexuality. That means the state might have to fire gay and lesbian teachers and others who come in contact with children.

Measure Nine is backed by religious conservatives, including televangelist Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition. Rallying against them under the banner "No On 9" are homosexual groups, mainstream churches, major labor unions, and business groups. On Sept. 10, alternative rockers Nirvana, from Seattle, played a concert to benefit No On 9. Both sides are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a vote that should go down to the wire.

Colorado's Amendment 2 is less restrictive but would still ban protected status for homosexuals and repeal laws in Denver and Aspen that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. Equal Protection Campaign Colorado, which is fighting Amendment 2, has raised $340,000. Its opponent, Coloradans for Family Values, has raised $227,000. Early polls showed Amendment 2 would be defeated, but the family-values forces are narrowing the gap.

SIN TAXES. Many states also are trying to win public approval for various creative revenue-raisers. Oklahoma voters will decide whether to tax not gambling itself but bingo sets and other gambling paraphernalia. Massachusetts and Arkansas want to raise cigarette taxes.

Those measures aren't likely to be as popular as tax-relief initiatives. Colorado and Connecticut will vote on tax-limitation measures, and Californians will decide whether to discontinue an unpopular tax on junk food.

Business is having a fairly easy time of it. But companies aren't getting off scot-free. California's Proposition 167 would hike taxes on business and the wealthy. In Massachusetts, voters will decide on a measure that would require packaging used or sold in the state to be reusable or made at least in part from recycled or recyclable materials.

And consumer-products companies from around the country are keeping tabs on Ohio's Issue Five. It would require consumer-products makers to note on the labels of their goods the presence of any cancer-causing or birth-defect-causing chemicals. Issue Five opponents say the measure would cost consumers $2.2 billion in the first year. Citizen Action, which scoffs at that figure, warns in its ads: "What you don't know can hurt you."

Bears, food labels, and taxes: Such are the concerns of the voters this year. But politicians, take note. However divided the electorate is, most seem to agree on one slogan: "Throw the bums out."

TARGETS ON THE 1992 BALLOT
      FOOD COMPANIES Massachusetts voters can decide to set strict limits on how 
      consumer goods are packaged. An Ohio measure would require labels on consumer 
      products to note the presence of any carcinogenic chemicals
      POLITICIANS Initiatives to limit the terms of state and federal elected 
      officials are on the ballot in 15 states
      HOMOSEXUALS Colorado and Oregon both have initiatives that would rescind laws 
      barring discrimination against gays and lesbians. Oregon's would require the 
      state to discourage homosexuality
      SMOKERS AND GAMBLERS Voters in Arkansas and Massachusetts are being asked to 
      hike cigarette taxes. Oklahomans will decide whether to tax bingo sets and 
      gambling paraphernalia
      HUNTERS To protect mother bears and their cubs, Colorado voters are being asked 
      to outlaw the spring 61-day bear-hunting season
      DATA: BW