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Sounding Out Idaho Bear-Baiting, Nuclear Initiatives Lose Ground Poll Shows Dramatic Tournaround In Support For Both Measures

Initiatives aimed at banning bearbaiting and overturning Gov. Phil Batt’s nuclear waste agreement both appear headed for defeat, according to a new poll.

The poll, conducted for The Idaho Spokesman-Review and two television stations, found overwhelming opposition to both measures - a dramatic turnaround from earlier polls that showed both likely to pass.

In both cases, big-bucks campaigns by opponents of the measures appear to be paying off.

Opponents of the bear-baiting initiative, backed by hunting groups across the country, have raised more than half a million dollars for their campaign. They’ve outspent the initiative supporters by more than three to one with a campaign that portrays them as extremists who even want to “take away your Thanksgiving turkey dinner.”

On the nuclear waste initiative, both sides have campaigned heavily, each raising more than $300,000. The Idaho Republican Party and businesses with connections to the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory bankrolled much of the anti-initiative effort. Actor Bruce Willis put more than $120,000 of his money into the pro-initiative campaign.

“I think these results illustrate the opposition weighing in with some effective advertising,” said Jim Weatherby, a Boise State University political science professor.

They also show possible vindication for Gov. Phil Batt, who has maintained all year that when voters learned more about the nuclear waste agreement he negotiated with the federal government, they’d support it.

“I think people are starting to understand,” said Amy Kleiner, spokeswoman for “Get the Waste Out,” the group opposing the waste initiative. Kleiner is Batt’s press secretary, but has taken a leave from her job to work full-time on the campaign.

David Proctor, spokesman for “Stop the Shipments,” the group backing the measure, said his group believes companies that profit from waste coming into the state are trying to fool voters. “The whole point of the opposition has been to confuse the issue,” Proctor said.

The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research for the newspaper, KTVB-TV in Boise and KHQ-TV in Spokane, posed identical questions in May, September, mid-October and this week.

The bear-baiting initiative started out narrowly ahead in May, while the nuclear waste initiative had a 46-31 edge. In September, both had even stronger support, with the bear-baiting initiative at 43-35 and the nuclear waste initiative supported by 52 percent, with 29 percent opposed.

But by mid-October, the bear-baiting initiative had slipped behind and the nuclear waste measure had just a 1 percent edge. In the new poll, the numbers are 53-30 against the bear-baiting measure, and 50-37 against the nuclear waste initiative.

Weatherby said there’s been lots of confusion about the complicated issues surrounding the waste initiative, but some have become more clear.

“People can be confused over the terms of the initiative or the agreement, but they know there is something in place and apparently trust Gov. Batt and former Gov. Andrus in their endorsement of the agreement and opposition to the initiative.”

The waste initiative would overturn Batt’s agreement and require both legislative approval and a public vote for any future nuclear waste agreement.

The bear-baiting initiative would ban the use of bait in hunting black bears, and also would eliminate the spring bear hunt and the use of hounds.

Rather than focus on those proposals - on which hunters are divided - opponents have chosen to paint the measure as a first step toward an extreme animal-rights agenda to include banning all hunting.

“The opponents have done an excellent job, their message is clear and apparently people are responding to it,” Weatherby said. “The message is Idaho shouldn’t be dictated to by ‘out-of-state extremists.”’ The opponents actually have more out-of-state money than initiative proponents, whose biggest contributor has been the Humane Society of the United States.

If Idaho rejects the bear-baiting initiative, it could become the first state to vote down such a measure. Washington’s bear-baiting initiative is expected to pass.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Bear baiting initiative well behind

The following fields overflowed: KEYWORD = NUCLEAR WASTE, FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE

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