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Sounding Out Washington New Approach To Congressional Term Limits Has Support Voters Inclined To Approve Hunting Limits, Casino-Style Gambling

Washington voters may be poised to approve another set of term limits on their members of Congress, a new poll shows.

They also are leaning toward a law that would permit casino-style gambling on Indian lands, according to a poll by Political/Media Research.

And they may ban certain hunting practices for bear and other game animals - if that initiative appears with the others on the November ballot.

Congressional term limits, which were approved in Washington in 1992 but overturned two years later by the U.S. Supreme Court, still have strong support, the poll showed.

More than half of the 806 voters contacted for the survey said they currently plan to vote yes on Initiative 670.

That proposal requires members of Congress to support a constitutional amendment establishing limits of three two-year terms for House members and two six-year terms for senators. If they don’t, that fact would be noted on the ballot when they sought re-election.

Given the state’s previous vote for term limits, the support for the current initiative is no surprise, said Del Ali, an analyst for the polling firm.

“The only thing that’s surprising is that there’s not more support for it,” he said. “But then, you don’t hear candidates talking about term limits like they did in ‘94.”

John Sonneland, a Spokane physician who sponsored the initiative, said people may be more comfortable with their individual congressman.

But term limits continue to have strong support because “people in general don’t like what they see in Congress,” he said.

Sonneland admits the initiative is complicated, with its call for members of Congress to support the limits and requirements to add language to the ballot for those who oppose them. “Most of the public doesn’t realize this is the only way we’re going to get term limits.”

Alice Stolz of the League of Women Voters, which opposes the initiative, said the poll indicates that “obviously, we have some publicity to do.”

Opponents will try to convince voters that a constitutional convention, which could be called if Congress won’t pass a term limits amendment, is a dangerous idea. They also will argue against cluttering up future ballots with information about how candidates voted on the term limits issue.

“What’s next? The ballot could turn into a voters pamphlet,” Stolz said.

Initiative 671, which would allow slot machines on Indian land, had a slight plurality in the poll - 45 percent said they supported it while 40 percent were opposed. The proposal has more support outside the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, the poll showed.

The number of undecided voters could be a problem for the gaming initiative, Ali said. Voters who remain undecided on election day usually vote “no.”

The proposal will need an extensive ad campaign to convince undecided voters, he said.

Doreen Maloney of Tribes for Responsible Gaming, which sponsors the initiative, said the poll seems to be consistent with others taken in the state.

Supporters have not yet started their campaign, which she acknowledged will be needed to win the support of a majority of the state’s voters.

“Does that require us to educate voters? You’re darned right,” she said of the fact that support is below 50 percent.

Initiative 655, which would make it illegal for hunters to use dogs or bait when hunting bear, cougar, bobcats or lynx, also has more support than opposition.

But the hunting initiative has less support outside metropolitan Puget Sound.

“This East Side-West Side split is probably a result of there being more hunters in the East,” Ali said. “But the fact is, there are more voters in the West.”

Joe Scott, sponsor of I-655, said he was “pleased but not surprised” to be leading in the poll and knew supporters faced a challenge to win over the undecided voters.

Scott said he is currently hampered from raising money because the initiative has not yet qualified for the November ballot. Signed petitions were filed around July 4, but so many signatures were invalid that each one must be checked against the state’s voter registration records.

Some 181,000 valid signatures are required to place an initiative on the ballot.

A spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office said the signatures on the group’s petitions are still being checked. A final tally is expected sometime next week.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Voters take initiatives seriously