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Sounding Out Idaho Poll Shows Initiatives Gain Support In Idaho Voters Appear Likely To Overturn Batt’s Nuclear Agreement

Support is growing for the property tax-trimming One Percent Initiative, along with measures to ban bear baiting and overturn Gov. Phil Batt’s nuclear-waste agreement.

But only the nuclear waste initiative and another on term limits are clearly headed for passage, said pollster Del Ali of Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research, which conducted a new statewide poll for the Idaho Spokesman-Review, KHQ-TV and KTVB-TV.

Support for the One Percent has grown since a similar poll in May showed the issue too close to call. But the measure’s lead, 46 percent to 36 percent with 18 percent undecided, isn’t decisive.

“There’s only a plurality of support right now,” said Ali, “so there’s a pretty good chance it could go down.”

Ron Rankin, the initiative’s author, was “thrilled” with the numbers. “I’m going out and dance on rooftops,” the Coeur d’Alene anti-tax activist and county commissioner candidate said.

Rankin said he’s seen “an avalanche of opposition” to his measure from cities, counties and business groups over the summer, but he hasn’t yet fully geared up his campaign. He plans newspaper inserts across the state in October. “This is very encouraging to me,” Rankin said of the poll. “I just hope that our people don’t get overconfident.”

Amy Kleiner, spokewoman for Gov. Phil Batt, said the governor expects the numbers to change “once the voters learn what the alternatives are.”

The initiative would limit property taxes to 1 percent of assessed value after exemptions, and shift millions in public school funding from the local property tax to the state general fund. It doesn’t say how the state should come up with the money.

“The passage of the One Percent would either require major cuts in services or a tax increase,” Kleiner said. “When you poll people and say do you want to cut services or do you want a tax increase, they usually don’t want either.”

Batt expects a similar erosion of support on the “Stop the Shipments” initiative, which would overturn his deal with the federal government to allow more nuclear waste shipments into Idaho in exchange for cleanup of waste already here and a plan to remove all the waste within 40 years.

Support for that initiative grew from 46 percent in May to 52 percent in the new poll.

Trent Clark, campaign manager of a new group working against the initiative, said, “Our organization only announced yesterday. So far, the people of Idaho have only heard one side of this debate, which was a side that professed that a yes vote meant that shipments of nuclear waste would stop.”

Given that, Clark said he was surprised that even 29 percent of those polled opposed the measure. He said he signed the initiative petition himself after being told it would stop shipments.

But Clark contends the initiative would only stop the cleanup and promises of waste removal contained in Batt’s agreement.

John Peavey, a former state senator and spokesman for the Stop the Shipments organization, said he was “very pleased” with the poll numbers. He called the governor’s deal “an incredibly one-sided agreement that protects Idaho not at all, and gives us a very, very false sense of security.”

“We’ve got a whale of a fight on our hands,” Peavey said. “The opposition is going to spend incredible amounts of money.”

An initiative to ban the use of bait, hounds, and a spring season in black bear hunting saw its support rise from a dead heat in May to a lead of 43 percent to 35 percent in the new poll.

In the May poll, women favored the initiative 39 percent to 24 percent, while men opposed it 44 percent to 33 percent. That’s now changed, with men giving the measure a one-point lead and women still in favor, 46 percent to 31 percent.

“I think it shows that people are coming to realize that the opposition’s arguments that this is an anti-hunting measure are beginning to be seen for what they are, being completely untrue,” said Lynn Fritchman, chairman of the Idaho Coalition United for Bears.

Fritchman said the measure is pro-hunting because it’ll improve the image of hunting with non-hunters. “The future of hunting depends upon the vast majority of people who are not hunters looking with favor upon those who do hunt.”

John Watts, spokesman for the Sportsmen’s Heritage Defense Fund, said, “I think when we’re able to get our word out and people are able to understand that these folks are animal extremists and this has nothing to do with hunting, then we’ll see the undecideds come our way, and frankly, we’ll see some of the people saying they’re for it come our way.”

While the pro-initiative group has garnered funding from the Humane Society of the United States, the sportsmen group has gathered more than four times as much campaign money from hunting groups across the state and nation.

Pollster Ali said in light of that, the measure’s fate is uncertain. “It’s a very slim plurality of support, only 43 percent,” he said. “It really gets down to whatever side does a better selling job, whoever has more money.”

The fourth initiative on the ballot, calling for Idaho’s congressional delegation to support term limits and for legislative candidates to press for a constitutional amendment on term limits, has lost some ground since May but still appears headed for easy passage.

The measure calls for ballot warnings by the names of those who don’t vote for term limits or don’t sign a term limits pledge. Support was at 60 percent in May, and 58 percent in the new poll.

“I think people realize that Congress has a terrible conflict of interest on this issue, and they won’t vote term limits on themselves,” said Hayden Lake resident Donna Weaver, chairman of the campaign for the measure. “So we have to do it.”

The poll questioned 809 likely Idaho voters last Thursday through Saturday. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Voters take initiatives seriously