LOS ANGELES — California awarded its massive electoral prize to Al Gore on Tuesday, sent Democrat Dianne Feinstein back to the Senate and rejected what would have been the nation’s biggest school voucher program.
Voters also approved new campaign finance restrictions and a measure that would send thousands of drug users to treatment programs instead of jail.
In the presidential race, California’s 54 electoral votes had been considered a lock for Gore over Republican George W. Bush until the final weeks of the campaign, when Green Party candidate Ralph Nader helped make the race closer.
Although the national race was extremely tight, California voters clearly wanted more of Gore.
“This man is so knowledgeable about the programs that are important to people in this country,” said Oakland senior citizen Bettina Valdes.
With two-thirds of precincts reporting, Gore had 52 percent to Bush’s 43 percent.
In the Senate, Feinstein fended off Republican challenger Tom Campbell. With two-thirds of precincts reporting, Feinstein had 55 percent of the vote; Campbell had 37 percent.
California also hosted a handful of the nation’s closest contests for Congress, though Republicans appeared likely to retain control nationwide.
In Southern California, incumbent Republican James Rogan – a prosecutor during President Clinton’s impeachment trial – was leading Democratic state Sen. Adam Schiff 50 percent to 47 percent with nearly one-third of precincts reporting. The candidates, who together raised at least $9.5 million, were expected to have the costliest House campaign ever.
In Silicon Valley, Democrat Mike Honda defeated Republican Assemblyman Jim Cunneen for the seat left open by Campbell. With half the precincts reporting, Honda had 54 percent to Cunneen’s 43 percent.
Voters turned down Proposition 38, sponsored by high-tech venture capitalist Tim Draper, which would have given parents a $4,000 voucher to send their children to private schools. The measure was failing by 70 percent to 30 percent.
“Where exactly will the money go and who will monitor it?” asked Los Angeles voter Monica Armbrester, who voted against 38. “I don’t buy the economics of the plan.”
The other education initiative, Proposition 39, would reduce the vote needed to approve local school bonds from two-thirds to 55 percent. With more than half of precincts reporting, the issue was leading 52 percent to 48 percent.
Total spending for the two school issues reached nearly $100 million.
Voters approved Proposition 36, which would send people convicted of nonviolent drug possession to treatment rather than prison. With more than half of precincts reporting, 59 percent had backed the initiative.
“If it’s treatable and the person can get off of drugs, I think that’s better than throwing them in jail when we could be throwing rapists, and murderers and those type of people in jail instead,” said Oakland voter Caroline Hong.
A campaign finance reform measure, Proposition 34, won 60 percent approval. Proposed by state lawmakers, the measure caps donations to politicians and limits their spending. It would also repeal most of Proposition 208, a tougher initiative approved by voters in 1996 that is tied up in court.
Opponents – including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and liberal actor Warren Beatty – argued 34 wasn’t real reform. It marked the sixth time in 12 years California voters were asked to restrict campaign spending.
On a local ballot, Mendocino County voters were raising a little smoke, voting to make pot crops legal, in small doses. Measure G, which allows residents to grow up to 25 pot plants, was leading 54 percent to 46 percent with two-thirds of precincts reporting. Pot crops would still be banned under state and federal laws.