Initiative tallies show conservative bent

By Raphael Lewis, Globe Staff, 11/9/2000

assachusetts has long been cast as a bastion of liberalism, a stereotype reinforced by the sweeping victories Tuesday of Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Al Gore.

Yet when state residents cast their votes on eight ballot questions, choosing sides on everything from tax cuts to prisoners' rights to universal health care, a distinctly conservative profile emerged.

The results beg an ever-pressing question in Massachusetts and American politics: Were the final tallies the result of voter mood or record spending by special-interest groups to mold public opinion, manipulate the undecided, and goad the sedentary?

''Money is one of the most crucial elements, but, tactically, it's not the key to winning here,'' said Louis DiNatale, director of UMass Poll, which tracked voter opinion from April until Election Day. ''We have a very sophisticated, discerning electorate. They don't just follow the money.''

Perhaps. Generally speaking, more conservative ballot questions won and more liberal proposals lost Tuesday. A question calling for universal health care, a cause long championed by the left, came close to succeeding despite the fact that supporters were outspent $4.7 million to $65,000, a ratio of 72-to-1.

''We feel like money had everything to do with the results,'' said Ann Eldridge, a registered nurse who fought for the passage of Question 5. She said yesterday that money was the single reason for the proposal's slim defeat.

But money was not the deciding factor on every ballot question, casting doubt on the power of campaign spending.

Question 8, which proposed using money from drug seizures to fund drug-treatment programs, also died - even though New York billionaire George Soros spent nearly $1 million for the cause, far more than his opponents.

Meanwhile, voters overwhelmingly approved the largest tax cut in state history, even though opponents of the measure far outspent backers.

Even when money was not at stake, voters also veered to the right. Question 2 proposed taking away the right of incarcerated felons to vote in state elections, an idea that voters supported 2-to-1. They also agreed to give themselves a tax deduction for charitable donations.

''We think there was a regressive mood on the part of the voters,'' said Al Gordon of the Yes on 8 campaign. ''Basically, more liberal ideas got defeated.''

Backers of Question 3, which proposed a ban on greyhound racing, cite their opponents' expenditures, not a conservative mood, as the reason their measure lost. According to the latest campaign-spending filings, opponents spent about $1.9 million between Sept. 16 and Nov. 1. Supporters spent $505,000 in that time.

''I think if the money were reversed, we would have won by a landslide,'' said Carey Theil, a spokesman for Grey2K.

Question 3 went down by 2 percentage points, 51-49.

The decisive defeat of Question 6, a proposal to give motorists a state tax credit for tolls and auto excise tax payments, may further confuse those looking for quick answers. The proposal, which would have delivered about $650 million in tax rebates in its first year alone, was aimed at middle-class, suburban commuters fed up with big government.

Despite that, several communities in the Massachusetts Turnpike corridor, towns populated by toll-paying, multicar families, turned down the offer.

Harold Hubschman, spokesman for the group that supported Question 6, saw his campaign's inability to buy television time as the number one reason for the proposal's defeat, followed closely by voter cautiousness.

Raja Mishra of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.