Ballot Initiative Bonanza

Kai Lefeau, 3, waits for his mother to finish voting in the California gubernatorial recall election in Santa Ana, Calif.
AP
By a resounding 2-1 margin, Maine voters rejected a plan to build the state's first casino, deciding that promises of jobs and new tax revenues didn't outweigh the drawbacks of a lavish, Las Vegas-style resort. San Franciscans voted to impose a citywide minimum wage of $8.50 an hour and approved a crackdown on panhandling in public places.

Nearly $10 million - a state record - was spent ahead of Tuesday's election by supporters and critics of the casino proposed for the southern Maine town of Sanford. Opponents said the $650 million resort was the wrong kind of economic boost for a state identified with natural beauty and outdoor tourism.

"I'm very proud of the citizens of this state," said Gov. John Baldacci, a casino foe. "They were able to read the legislation and make the determination themselves. And it was a bad deal for Maine."

Baldacci promised to confer with the two Indian tribes which sought the casino, in hopes of developing other job-creating strategies.

Gambling was on the ballot in several places across the nation. In southern Indiana's economically struggling Orange County, voters approved a riverboat casino for an artificial waterway near French Lick. That's the hometown of basketball great Larry Bird, an investor in one of the groups hoping to develop the casino.

In Colorado, however, voters rejected a measure to expand casino-style gambling to five horse and greyhound racetracks. Opponents included business groups in three mountain towns with casinos that feared losing bettors to the tracks.

In San Francisco, voters backed a measure imposing an $8.50 minimum wage on all employers in the city.

California's hourly minimum wage is $6.75, and the minimum required under federal law is $5.15.

The vote makes San Francisco the third city in the nation - following Washington, D.C., and Santa Fe, N.M. - to set its own higher wage threshold, and supporters now hope to build momentum for similar measures in other U.S. cities. One such effort, in Madison, Wis., may appear on a ballot in March.

Another successful San Francisco proposition will replace a jumble of existing panhandling laws with a broader, more specific prohibition. It will ban "aggressive solicitation" by panhandlers and outlaw asking for money on public transportation, in parking lots and from motorists.

In New York City, voters defeated a proposal that would have replaced party primaries with nonpartisan elections for mayor and other city posts. Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent $2 million of his own fortune backing the proposal, while Democratic leaders, whose party holds a 5-1 edge in registered voters, urged a no vote.

Kirsten Powers, spokeswoman for a coalition opposing the measure, said voters sent a clear message to Bloomberg, who is up for re-election in two years. "This proves New Yorkers can't be bought and tonight was the kickoff of the 2005 mayoral race," she said.

In Richmond, Va., voters easily approved a proposal to have their mayor elected by popular vote, rather than appointed by the City Council. Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the nation's first black elected governor, was a key supporter of the measure in his hometown, saying it would improve government accountability. He disputed the claims of some local black leaders that it might dilute black voting strength.

In Denver, the ballot included the so-called "peace initiative," championed by former Transcendental Meditation teacher Jeff Peckman. It would have required the City Council to implement steps to reduce stress, but voters rejected it by a more than 2-1 margin.

Said Peckman, "My 15 minutes of fame may have just expired."

Only one proposal dealing with gay rights was at stake Tuesday. Voters in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, approved a proposal allowing same-sex couples - and also unmarried heterosexual couples - to officially register as domestic partners. Similar measures have been passed by numerous municipal councils, but gay-rights activists said this was the first time voters took the step.

Elsewhere:

  • Houston voters narrowly passed a proposition authorizing up to $640 million in revenue bonds to expand a new light rail system that will debut in their car-minded city in January. In Tucson, Ariz., voters rejected a proposed 13-mile light rail system, while voters in Kansas City, Mo., rejected a half-cent sales tax increase to fund a light rail system and other transmit improvements.
  • Washington state voters repealed sweeping workplace ergonomics regulations. Critics of the rules, including business associations and individual companies, said compliance would be too costly; unions praised the rules as valuable in reducing workplace injuries.
  • Prescott, Ariz., voters approved a ban on smoking in all workplaces and enclosed public spaces, while voters in Greeley, Colo., banned smoking in restaurants and bars.
  • Coloradans rejected a $2 billion bond proposal to fund water projects. Many western Coloradans feared the arid, populous East would get most of the benefits.