Washington voters are being asked this year whether Indian reservations can have slot machines, bear hunters can use dogs and congressmen can be forced out of office after a set number of terms.
The lucrative slot machines are currently illegal in the state, but Initiative 671 would permit each tribe up to 295 slot machines in exchange for agreeing to give 15 percent of the take to public programs.
Proponents call it a reasonable way to boost dismal tribal economies and reap public benefits at the same time.
Opponents warn the initiative is the gateway to wide-open Las Vegas-style gambling in Washington and a raft of crime and addiction that comes with it.
Spokane County Sheriff John Goldman and Prosecutor Jim Sweetser openly oppose the initiative, as do managers of Spokane bingo halls.
Almost 2,000 slot machines are already offered at seven casinos run by the Spokane Tribe and the Colville Tribe.
That controversial gambling activity is protected - at least temporarily - by a federal judge who says the slot-casinos can continue until the court decides whether the state has the right to regulate Indian gaming at all.
Initiative 671 is sponsored by 19 tribes that don’t currently offer slots in their casinos but which expect gaming revenues would soar if the initiative is approved.
I-670: Pushing term limits
Also on the ballot is Initiative 670, which gives voters another shot at restricting the number of years their members of Congress can serve.
This is the third term limits proposal to land on a state ballot in the ‘90s, but it has a few twists. It requires members of Congress to vote for term limits or be branded on future ballots. It also could set up the first national constitutional convention in more than 200 years to draft an amendment on the topic.
Although Washington voters and many other states approved some form of congressional term limits in 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court later overturned them as unconstitutional.
I-670 is part a nationwide effort to negate that ruling with a constitutional amendment.
It directs members of Congress to vote for an amendment to limit service to two terms in the Senate and three terms in the House. Those who do not vote for such a law would have a note next to their names on the ballot when they run for re-election: “Disregarded Voter Instructions On Term Limits.”
New candidates could be similarly branded on the ballot with a notation “Declined to Pledge To Support Term Limits.”
If Congress still does not approve an amendment and send it to the states to be ratified, the initiative directs the Legislature to petition for a constitutional convention “for proposing amendments.” Members of the Legislature who decline to vote for such a petition would have similar notations on future ballots.
Supporters - who criticize members of Congress for high salaries, lavish perks and scandals - say the initiative is the only way to force Congress to place limits on itself.
Critics - which include such diverse groups as the John Birch Society and the League of Women Voters - say voters already limit a politician’s term at the ballot box and calling a convention could lead to wholesale changes in the constitution.
I-655: Hunting limits
Proposed limits of a very different sort face voters in Initiative 655, which would ban the use of hounds and bait when hunting some of the most elusive animals in the forest: bear, bobcat, cougar and lynx.
The initiative is sponsored by animal rights activists who believe these longstanding and controversial methods are cruel and unsporting.
“It’s a matter of ethics,” says Lisa Wathne of the Washington Wildlife Alliance, a coalition of animal-protection and environmental groups, including the American Humane Society, the National Audubon Society and the Sierra Club.
Sportsmen who oppose the initiative note the predators’ numbers are rising because of reduced hunting. That leads to more encounters between people and dangerous animals.
Hunters who use hounds or bait aren’t the only sportsmen worried about the outcome of the election. Other hunters link Initiative 655 to a conspiracy by vegetarian animal lovers to eventually ban all hunting.