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Ballot Stuffings

mt. lion
The Fall of the Wild: Hunters' organizations contributed nearly 60 percent of $465,000 pumped into the coffers of Yes on Prop 197, which would allow the trophy hunting of California mountain lions.

The inside scoop on where Metro Santa Cruz stands on the people and propositions ponying up to local polling booths come Tuesday

Yes for Fred Keeley
State Assembly, 26th District

This tight race for the Assembly pits Santa Cruz County Supervisor Fred Keeley against Monterey County Supervisor Karin Strasser-Kauffman. We endorse Keeley because he has generally represented his 5th District constituents well and stood on what we believe is the right side of important decisions. We also believe he has the political savvy to do well by his district in Sacramento. However, after reading a report in the Mercury News regarding a Keeley poll, we were quite concerned about the appearance of duplicity on Keeley's part. Keeley's campaign hired a Santa Monica pollster to conduct a phone poll that included a question about how voters would feel about a candidate (Strasser-Kauffman, although not explicitly stated) using her mother's murder in her campaign to explain her gun-control stance. As the Mercury News reported it, when asked about the poll, Keeley denied that the murder of Strasser-Kauffman's mother was mentioned. However, after the Mercury's information was confirmed by the pollster, Keeley tried to qualify his previous statements as a misunderstanding. Keeley insists the reporter asked him specifically whether voters were asked whether they found the use of Strasser-Kauffman's mother in the campaign to be cynical--a question not specifically addressed. We certainly hope it was all a misunderstanding. We in Santa Cruz County expect propriety of our elected officials. We demand it. We want an honorable person who can get things done filling our legislative seat, and let's hope Fred Keeley lives up to that.

Yes for Jan Beautz
Supervisor, First District

While opponent Carolyn Busenhart sounds like a one-trick pony--anti-taxes--incumbent Jan Beautz has carved out a laudable two terms on the Board of Supervisors tackling the issues, not the politics. Sometimes she swings left, sometimes she swings right, but she's done well at listening to the desires of her constituents. She has managed to check the uncontrolled growth in the Live Oak area that her predecessor, Dan Forbus, seemed unable (or unwilling) to stop. Beautz deserves special commendation for using her vote to put the brakes to the O'Neill Ranch development, an ill-advised and poorly considered attempt to provide affordable housing.

Yes for Lowell Hurst
Supervisor, Second District

Aside from being the only candidate besides incumbent Walt Symons who has held any elected office, Watsonville City Councilmember Lowell Hurst has a strong environmental record and believes in the value of open space. He has taken strong stands against developing prime farmland and has led efforts to protect the slough system. He is also dedicated to developing alternatives to automobile transportation, which is becoming increasingly important. Hurst is an independent thinker who has shown a willingness to stand up for himself and go against the fray when necessary. While high-tech manager Paul Elerick, a member of the Democratic National Committee, has rounded up all the right endorsements and would not be a bad choice, we think Hurst is dedicated to his community and would make a fine representative on the board.

Yes for Jeff Almquist
Supervisor, Fifth District

Now that incumbent Fred Keeley has bigger fish to fry, Peggy Lopez and Jeff Almquist are both looking longingly at that 5th District supervisorial seat. Lopez, who runs a lie-detector device company, has solid support from Republicans and law enforcement, due in part to her pledge to make law enforcement the county's top spending priority if elected. But Almquist seems to be a bit of a bulldog when it comes to limiting growth and fighting developers hungry for a piece of our coastline. And, with Santa Cruz one of the few remaining jewels on the western shores, that's what we need.

Yes for Thomas Kelly
Municipal Judge, Dept. 1

Tom Kelly has a long record as a judge and prosecutor in Santa Cruz County, is highly qualified, and has shown himself to be fair. Kelly's challenger, former Municipal Court Commissioner Phillip Watts, has run a campaign based on dredging up a decade-old scandal that involved an extramarital affair between Kelly and another prosecutor when he was on the bench, then allowing her to continue arguing cases in his court. Although this is a big no-no in judicial circles, it happened long ago and Kelly has served several honorable terms since. Watts, however, has little to run on. He was hired as a commissioner and relieved of his position by the judges a decade later. Watts claims his termination was political. The district attorney claims Watts was incompetent. Regardless, Kelly is more qualified for the job, despite his past errors.

No on Santa Cruz Measure C
Amendment to City Charter allowing an arbitration panel to settle labor disputes between the city and its firefighters

Unlike police and other safety officials, firefighters are forbidden to strike. Santa Cruz firefighters, who claim that their pay and working conditions are below par, argue that this measure will ensure that the council listens and acts on their labor grievances in a timely manner. However, the council fears the consequences of handing over decision-making about our town's already-scarce resources to a group of outside arbitrators who have no accountability to the voters. We agree. Raising firefighters' salaries requires taking resources from other city departments, and that's a decision that should be made locally. State arbitrators make such decisions in a vacuum, without considering the impact on other city agencies. Vote No.

No on Prop 192
Seismic Retrofit Bond Act of 1996

Should California's taxpayers have to foot the bill to earthquake-proof toll bridges in the Bay Area? Nearly a third of the $2 billion in bonds authorized by Proposition 192 would be used for that purpose. Seismic retrofitting already is a priority for the $2.4 billion we pay each year in gas taxes. Prop. 192 would simply substitute expensive debt- financing from the state's general fund for the gas taxes, which would be diverted into new road building. And, in case there's any doubt about whose bread's going to get buttered, big contractors are expected to pony up at least $2 million to win passage of the proposition. Contributors include heavy- equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, which has donated $50,000, and Watsonville-based Granite Construction, which plunked down $75,000. Vote No.

Yes on Prop 193
Grandparent to Grandchild Inheritance

This ballot initiative would amend the state's constitution to allow some grandchildren to inherit real estate property from their grandparents--only if the parents are both deceased--without having to pay the higher property taxes brought on by a reappraisal of the property's market value. Such an exemption already exists for children inheriting or buying property from their parents. Although schools, counties, cities and special districts would lose property taxes because of the initiative, the losses would amount to only $1 million annually, according to the Legislative Analyst. Vote Yes.

No on Prop 194
Cuts off prisoner unemployment benefits

This proposal would exempt ex-cons from collecting unemployment benefits based on work performed for private business in the so-called Joint Venture Program during their incarcerations. While people's natural inclination might be against giving government benefits to criminals, think it through--aside from providing restitution to victims and reimbursement to the state for incarceration costs, the program is one way that ex-cons can once again become a productive part of society. Tossing convicts back out on the streets without a brief period of unemployment to cushion the transition can only lead to trouble. Vote No.

No on Prop 195
Makes carjacking and murder of jurors special circumstances

This proposition would make a murder committed during a carjacking a "special circumstance" punishable by death or by life without possibility of parole. It would do the same in cases of murder of a juror who was assigned to a case involving the murderer--an exceedingly rare occurrence. While both are heinous crimes, we believe this proposition plays on public fears while failing to address the practical matters of the death penalty and existing laws. The moral issues notwithstanding, carjacking encompasses kidnapping and robbery, both of which are already special circumstances that could send a murderer to the chair. There are issues of racial inequity: A black or Hispanic defendant is far more likely to be put to death than a white defendant convicted of the same crime, socioeconomic circumstances aside. Furthermore, in our current system, the appeals process makes it far more costly to execute a prisoner than to keep him incarcerated for life. Prop. 195 is impractical. Vote No.

No on Prop 196
Makes drive-by murder a special circumstance

In addition to the more general argument presented above, there is another compelling reason to vote against this proposition, which would make murder by drive-by shooting punishable by death or life without possibility of parole. In a drive-by shooting, not just the shooter but also everyone in the car goes down for first-degree murder. Because it is a gang activity, there are often 14- or 15-year-old kids along for the ride who may have little to do with the crime except that intense peer pressure compelled them to be present when some hotheaded older gang member decided to settle a score. This proposition could put a lot of young kids on death row, before they ever have a chance to grow up and learn to make decisions for themselves. Vote No.

No on Prop 197
Allows hunting of mountain lions

This measure would nullify the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990 (Prop 117) by allowing the state's mountain lions to be hunted once again. Supporters say hunting of the animals must be allowed because they're threatening the health and safety of the state's citizens. Animal-rights activists and other opponents say the measure is primarily the work of trophy hunters, who want lion heads to hang in their dens. And, if you "follow the money," it appears they're right. The National Rifle Association has kicked in $100,000 to get it passed. The NRA calls it "wildlife management"--you and I know it as hunting. Our theory is, if you gotta hunt to prove your cojonés, then make it a fair fight--give the lions a Winchester 70 and you use your teeth. Vote No.

Yes on Prop 198
Open primary elections

This proposition, which allows voters to vote across party lines during primary elections, generated quite a bit of debate here. One negative, presumably, is that it would allow party members whose candidate is running uncontested to spoil the opposing party's solidarity. For example, Democrats in the current presidential primary could mess up Dole by voting for Buchanan. Smaller third parties are against 198 because they are afraid they will lose their base of support in the primaries. These are worthy arguments, but our feeling is that partisan politics is divisive and counterproductive in trying to solve the problems our nation faces. When somebody runs for president, it should be to represent all people, not just those of that candidate's party. Furthermore, an open primary would allow people to vote for a candidate of one party for president and one of another party for state senate, thus allowing voters a bigger say in the democratic process. Both sides agree that Prop 198 would get more voters involved. We may never scrap our corrupt, entrenched two-party system, but we can at least chip away at party lines for the sake of common democratic principles. Vote Yes.

No on Prop 199
Limits on Mobilehome Rent Control

Prop. 199 is basically a showdown between a group of mobilehome park owners and the thousands of seniors who live in the state's 5,800 mobilehome parks. The proposition would phase out all local rent control laws affecting parks and prohibit new state and local rent control laws. This is the work of a couple of rogue mobilehome park owners whose greed is unmatched by most other mobilehome park owners. The fraudulent initiative pretends to provide rental assistance to needy tenants, but the only thing it will do is help thousands of elderly mobilehome owners right out of their homes. Seems pretty clear to us. Vote No.

No on Prop 200
No-Fault Auto Insurance

This proposition would require insurers to pay benefits regardless of who is at fault in most motor vehicle accidents, in effect banning lawsuits against negligent or reckless drivers. No-fault has been on the ballot before and lost. This is a shoddily written piece of insurance legislation, which is unlikely to bring down premiums and is only designed to reap a windfall for insurers. Vote No.

No on Prop 201
Shareholder lawsuits

This measure would require a losing party to pay a winning party's reasonable attorneys' fees and expenses in shareholder actions against corporations. The same would hold true in class actions based on securities-law violations. It would also impose a number of other restrictions on litigation. In other words, if this passes, lawyers would rarely consider cases from plaintiffs who could not afford to post a bond up front. Would that be the little guy or Big Business? Take a good guess. Vote No.

Yes on Prop 202
Limits lawyers' contingency fees

This proposition would require the plaintiff's attorneys in tort cases to demand a settlement price and allow the defendant to make a counteroffer. Prop. 202 would limit the lawyer's fee to 15 percent of that counteroffer, or if it is rejected, larger fees could only be collected on amounts in excess of the counteroffer. Our society is far, far too litigious and it didn't get that way by accident. The large contingency fees (often one-third of the settlement) charged by the plaintiff's attorneys in personal injury and similar types of lawsuits compel lawyers to take weak or frivolous cases, which are often settled because it's usually cheaper to settle than go through a prolonged litigation process. By limiting the lawyers' cut, which has clearly gotten out of hand, this proposition will help assure that lawsuits are only filed when they have considerable merit. Vote Yes.

Yes on Prop 203
Capital improvements for public schools

This proposition gives the state authority to sell $3 billion in bonds to finance capital improvements in public schools and universities. This money is desperately needed. Leaking ceilings, dangerous bleachers, rotting floors, bricks falling from buildings--the infrastructure of our educational system is literally falling apart. The UC system has a deferred maintenance backlog expected to reach nearly $1 billion by the year 2000. Meanwhile we are pumping tens of billions of dollars into prison building. If California can't even take proper care of the educational institutions it so proudly built up during the 1960s, we're definitely going to be needing those prisons. Vote Yes.

For the complete text of the Legislative Analyst's Office Analyses of Measures on the March 26, 1996 Primary Election Ballot, take a look at their web page.

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From the March 21-27, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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