NEAL CONAN, host:
This is Talk of the Nation, I'm Neal Conan in Washington. A week from tomorrow, voters in five states will cast votes on gay marriage and abortion - two controversial issues that have long-divided the country. Ballot measures on gay marriage are on the ballot in California, Arizona and Florida. Colorado and South Dakota vote on abortion bans and parental notification is on the ballot in California. Most of the arguments on both sides of these issues are well-known. Electoral battles often turn on tactics, effective advertising, and fund-raising. So, today we want to hear from callers in these five states. How is the fight on these ballot initiatives playing out where you live? How did the campaigns on these issues play into the presidential and other state-wide elections? Our phone number is 800-989-8255, email us firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also comment on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.
Later, one party rule is on the Opinion Page this week. We'll hear an argument that liberals interested in climate change and health care might want to vote for John McCain. But first, how ballot measures on gay rights and abortion are playing out this election year, the state of play in California and South Dakota. We begin in California. Jessica Garrison is a staff reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She's been covering the gay marriage issue there. She joins us from the studios of KPCC, our member station in Pasadena. Nice to have you on the program today.
Ms. JESSICA GARRISON (Reporter, Los Angeles Times): Nice to be here.
CONAN: And this is Proposition 8. I think last spring it was the California Supreme Court ruled that a ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. So, this is the effort to reverse that decision effectively.
Ms. GARRISON: That's exactly right. In May, the California Supreme Court allowed same sex marriages to begin in California and very soon after that, groups opposed to that got a constitutional amendment on the ballot. So, Proposition 8, if you vote yes on Proposition 8, you are voting to amend the California Constitution to ban same sex marriage.
CONAN: And how is it running in the opinion polls?
Ms. GARRISON: Well, the polls have been all over the place. The most recent poll that I've seen is from the Public Policy Institute of California which came out last week and showed 52 percent of the electorate voting no, of likely voters sorry and 44 percent voting yes. Other polls released by the campaigns on both sides have showed the measure much closer than that.
CONAN: So, close to - fair to say, it's up in the air.
Ms. GARRISON: I think, it's fair to say it's up in the air, yes.
CONAN: And has this been a low-key campaign or a hot button issue?
Ms. GARRISON: This has been the most costly ballot measure in the country. The last number I saw about $60 million. Everywhere, you turn on the TV, you walk into - turn on the radio, you'll hear advertisements about it. I would not call it low key.
CONAN: And has it been an emotional campaign?
Ms. GARRISON: It has been a very, I mean, this is a very emotional campaign on both sides. And you're seeing that in the advertisements, you're seeing that in, there in San Diego there are people who are fasting and have been fasting for 40 days in the hopes that this will pass. On the other side, you have, you've got people protesting, you have allegations that lawn signs have been destroyed, you have people crying. I've come into work on my voicemail after I've written articles and had tearful messages on both sides from people, so, it's a very hard-fought and passionate campaign on both sides.
CONAN: And if it is passed, Proposition 8, will it take effect immediately? And what will happen to those people who have already been, who have gotten, of the same sex who've gotten married in California?
Ms. GARRISON: Well, that's a fascinating question. What will happen to those marriages? We've constitutional scholars and legal scholars and family law scholars on both sides and they both have different interpretations of what would happen and I think ultimately, it would be a very hot court fight as to whether those marriages would still be recognized or not.
CONAN: Well, stay with us, if you would. We are now going to go to South Dakota and Patrick Lalley, the managing editor of the Argus Leader who is with us from the studios of South Dakota Public Radio in Sioux Falls. Nice to have you on the program.
Mr. PATRICK LALLEY (Managing Editor, Argus Leader): Thank you very much, Neal.
CONAN: And this is the issue of abortion which is on the ballot there in South Dakota and on the ballot, was it two years ago?
Mr. LALLEY: Yes, 2006 and it's been going on for quite a few years now.
CONAN: The measure in 2006 would have effectively banned all abortions. This one, as I understand it, is somewhat different.
Mr. LALLEY: Yes, it has some exceptions built into it. In 2006 there was one - there's language for exception for the life of the mother but it didn't have the rape and incest provisions. So, the proponents came back and wrote a new piece of legislation, actually, put it on there through the initiated measure process and it contains exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother. Though there has been some controversy about how those are written and whether they are really exceptions, practical exceptions.
CONAN: And how is this one running in the polls?
Mr. LALLEY: We had a poll come out Sunday in our newspaper and it is dead even, 44 to 44. Of course, there's a margin of error of about three and a half points but its very, very close.
CONAN: And has this, we've heard about $60 million on the gay marriage in California. I assume you're not spending quite that much money in South Dakota.
Mr. LALLEY: Something just shy of that, it's about, the latest reports came out on Friday and it's about two and half million range so far.
CONAN: And as I understand it, the last time around there was a lot of concern that the measure was sort of imported, written by people outside of South Dakota and put on the ballot with the idea of making this a case that would go to the Supreme Court.
Mr. LALLEY: Oh, absolutely. It had started as a state-wide task force and grew out of that, but they had used some sample legislation. It really was intended to challenge Roe v. Wade and the original conversation was really how they wanted this, a purified version of the ban so that it could move quickly through the process and get to the Supreme Court. That didn't happen because it was referred, it was passed by the legislature and referred to a vote of the people and was defeated. And so that is where, what led us to this year's version.
CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation. Our guests are, you've just heard Patrick Lalley, managing editor of the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls in South Dakota where abortion is on the ballot again. Abortion is also on the ballot in California where it's parental notification that's the issue there. Colorado also has an abortion amendment on its ballot and defines a person as a human being from the moment of fertilization presumably will ban abortion, and we've just heard in South Dakota. We are also talking with Jessica Garrison of the Los Angeles Times. California has a ballot amendment, a constitutional amendment, Prop 8, that would define marriage as solely between one man and one woman. Similar amendments are on the ballot in Florida and in Arizona. And we want callers from those states. How is this ballot initiative battle playing out where you live? 800-989-8255, email us email@example.com . And let's go to Denise, Denise with us from Rapid City in South Dakota.
DENISE (Caller): Hello.
DENISE: I actually want to say hello to my friend Patrick Lalley on the other side of this table. I'm also a journalist here in South Dakota, and to me, the documentary about the 2006 abortion ban vote called "Unplanned Democracy" and in that, the legislator who brought the original abortion ban in 2004 said that he had gone looking for some model legislation and help from national organizations to bring the best legislation and he couldn't find any. He was, sort of felt like he was left on his own. So, I think there is a debate over how much out-of-state influence and how much of this is really the South Dakota grassroots effort out here.
Mr. LALLEY: You know what, I think absolutely, Denise, you know a lot about this and has been involved in covering it for a long time. And that is very true. The original legislation grew out of that task force and as you know, it was hashed out for a long time. And there was a lot of conversation about how you best can challenge Roe v. Wade.
DENISE: Right, that was always the goal, absolutely. And when I talked to the (unintelligible), she wanted me to talk about the difference between the 2006 campaign and the 2008 campaign. And in 2006, the state was in a nearly all-out conflagration for several months leading up to the vote partly because of the efforts to get the signatures, to refer the legislature bill to go to the people. In this year, it has been absolutely quiet. I don't know how Patrick sees this but it almost seems like just in the last several days as when people have really started paying attention to the fact that this on the ballot again.
Mr. LALLEY: I think that's absolutely true. It has been much, much quieter this time around. I think that there is an acceptance by the people who want to pass this, the yes folks, that to have six, eight, ten months of all-out TV war and to put trucks with the graphic - the pictures of fetuses and things of this nature driving around didn't help them that much. And I think that there was a really concerted effort to down, to tone it down a little bit so it has been not nearly as vitriolic and high profile as it was the first time. Now in the last week or two, it started to come back up just in terms of as you would expect with any sort of political campaign. It went back and forth and allegations being made, but it's not even close to being the same campaign as it was two years ago.
CONAN: Denise, very interesting. Thanks very much for the call.
DENISE: You're welcome.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go now to Chris, and Chris is on the line with us from Sarasota in Florida.
CHRIS (Caller): Hi.
CONAN: Go ahead please.
CHRIS: OK. I got our sample ballot in the mail and I read it, and one of the new amendments that is on there is a ban on same sex marriage, civil unions at any other marriage equivalencies. And the way they worded it, it pulls a lot more support than people that, than most people I know that would actually before it. Anyone who I've actually explained out, explain to that it's actually going to ban, sort of already has a definition of marriage between one man and one woman. But the way their wording it is basically so that they can ban civil unions and any other marriage equivalency, I don't know what that means but.
CONAN: Well, does it - does Florida have a civil union law that's all the civil.
CHRIS: I do know they have one permitting civil unions or not. I do know that this would ban them.
CONAN: I see. Is that an issue in California, Jessica Garrison?
Ms. GARRISON: Banning civil unions is not an issue in California. Fighting over ballot language and allegations that ballot language is misleading is an issue in California. I can't really speak to Florida's ballot because I haven't seen it. In California, there's no attempt to ban civil unions, but there have been fights about, you know, how language is worded on the ballot to appeal or not to appeal as certain constituencies.
CONAN: Chris, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.
CHRIS: OK, no problem.
CONAN: All right, we'd like to hear from voters in five states today about two issues that are on ballot initiatives in those states: gay marriage in Arizona, California, and Florida; abortion in California, Colorado, and South Dakota. 800-989-8255. How is this issue playing out in the campaign? How is it being affected by the presidential campaign or affecting the presidential campaign? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us, I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk Of The Nation from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation, I'm Neal Conan in Washington. More than 150 measures are on the ballot in this election in dozens of states. There's the usual mix of tax caps and bond issues. In five states, voters face questions on abortion or gay marriage. They were focused on those ballot initiatives, gay marriage in California, Arizona and Florida, abortion bans in Colorado and South Dakota. If you're in one of those states, how is the fight on those ballot initiatives playing out where you live? How do the campaigns on those issues play in to the presidential and other state-wide elections? 800-989-8255, email us at email@example.com. You can also tell us your story on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.
Our guest is Jessica Garrison, staff reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She's covering what's called Proposition 8 out there. Also with us Patrick Lalley, managing editor of the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota who's been covering the abortion issue out there. And Jessica, we've heard some clips from advertisements. You mentioned that they seem to be ubiquitous. How are those advertisements playing out here, is one side doing better than the other or are they one side outspending the other?
Ms. GARRISON: The two sides are fairly evenly matched in terms of the money. The yes side had spent about $27, $28 million with 20 percent of that money coming from outside California. The no side has spent about $31 million with about 35 percent of that money coming from outside California. A huge chunk of that money is obviously going for television advertisements. And, you know, turn on your TV, turn on the radio, you're going to hear them. And the yes side is focusing its advertisements on the issue of children and schools. And what they say might happen in schools if the measure is not passed.
They also have a clip of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom declaring it's going to happen whether you like it or not, which you hear. You know, I walked into a store yesterday and there was Gavin Newsom saying that again. And the no side is, for their part, drafted the superintendent of schools to say this would not affect what goes on. You know the proposition has nothing to do with education. And so that the two sides are focusing, and interestingly, there was a piece in LA Times that I did not write over the weekend that kind of pointed out that neither side has really put any gay people in their advertisements that they're focusing on things sort of out, you know, they don't picture the people who will be affected by this the most, which are the gay couples.
CONAN: And we heard clips from some of the ads in California, from two of the ads in California. We're now going to play some of the ads that are running in South Dakota on the abortion issue. And this is from a group called South Dakota Vote Yes for Life.
(Soundbite of television ad)
Unidentified Woman: The last time South Dakota voted on reducing the abortions, they said they would prefer a measure with exceptions. The voter's voice was heard. And this year, Initiated Measure 11 was written by South Dakotans for South Dakotans. Measure 11 includes exceptions in cases of rape, incest and to save the health and life of the mother. Measure 11 is reasonable. Measure 11 will reduce abortion from being used as birth control and will prevent 97 percent of abortions from ever occurring. Please vote yes on Measure 11. It is South Dakota's reasonable vote.
CONAN: And here's one from a group opposing, IM 11 in South Dakota. It's called Healthy Families.
(Soundbite of television ad)
Unidentified Woman: Two years ago, we learned I was carrying identical twin boys. But the joy only lasted for a few minutes. One boy was slowly dying, and the other's heart was pumping for both of them and was failing from the strain. We had 24 hours to decide if we'd end one boy's life to save the other. It was the hardest, most awful decision of our lives. Under Measure 11, we wouldn't have had that choice. And we would've lost both of them.
CONAN: And let me ask you Patrick Lalley, is that indicative of the advertisements from both sides? Are both equally funded?
Mr. LALLEY: Oh, the Healthy Family's folks have a little more money. The report that came out last week said they had 1.68 million raised versus about 720,000 for the other side. So they've got, you know, a money edge there and media in South Dakota is not as expensive at it is in other places. So you can do a fair amount. But that said, that's not a lot of money to really blanket the airwaves. So the ads have been fairly selective, not ubiquitous in any mean - by any means but there that the camp - the family of the woman talking about not being able to carry both of babies to term, that was a pretty heavy ad for all and I think fairly effective. The other side, the vote yes folks have been firing up now. And so in the last week, I think we're going to see them a lot.
CONAN: OK. Let's get another caller on the line. Cory is calling us from Salida in Colorado.
CORY (Caller): Hi there.
CORY: I was calling about the person, that measure, the abortion measure.
CONAN: Yes, in Colorado, a constitutional amendment that proposition would define person as a human being from the moment of fertilization. And that is presumed to then to ban abortion.
CORY: Yeah. And they're actually, you know, surprisingly, this election cycle, I haven't necessarily seen a lot of advertisements that hasn't been blanketed the way that we have in other ways that things that this might be getting drowned out. Because I'm sure as you know, Colorado is kind of one of those tossup states in the presidential election.
CONAN: And again, Colorado, like South Dakota, this has been on the ballot repeatedly.
CORY: Yeah. And I think that there might be another part of it. It's been, you know, majors like this have been defeated, you know, couple of times in recent years. And I think that Colorado has been seeing a shift kind of a little bit more towards the Democratic side we've had that huge population change and the demographic zone are just changing here. And I just don't know that this is an issue that people were really as concerned about.
Plus, it's really - one of the interesting things about Colorado is that it is fairly easy to get an initiative on the ballot. You don't have to have all that many signatures. I think its maybe 15,000, and what we've seen with that majors, like this abortion one as with ones from the past, have come out of Colorado Springs which is their focus on family lives. They've all generated there.
CONAN: Cory, thank for the report. Appreciate it. It's interesting, the presidential campaign not so hot in South Dakota, Patrick Lalley. So is this issue the big issue there?
Mr. LALLEY: It is. And the polling indicates that rest of the race is state-wide races for the Congressional offices and such are not that close. So this is really been the focus of everybody's attention in the last couple of weeks.
CONAN: Jessica Garrison, also California not a swing state. So how big is this issue on the ballot in terms of what people are aware of this year?
Ms. GARRISON: No I think that's an interesting question. I mean I think people are very aware of the presidential race here, although we don't have a lot of advertising on television. I think this is the most hard-fought issue here but I think that there's also a suggestion that the presidential race may be playing into this a little bit. For example, turn-out is expected to be very high among the African-American community in California because Barack Obama is on the ballot. And African-Americans, though generally, expected to vote for Barack Obama are also expected by political pundits to vote yes on Proposition 8. So there is some play in the presidential, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
CONAN: Let's go to Lynn, and Lynn's on the line with us from Redding, in California.
LYNN (Caller): Hi.
CONAN: Go ahead please.
LYNN: Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to talk about. I live in Redding, California which is way up in the north, and it's a very conservative area. And I'd say generally speaking right now between all the different special places that I've been that most people want to see gay marriage stopped. You know, against what the Supreme Court in the State of California has already said.
CONAN: And Lyn, what do the yard signs say? What do the billboards say?
LYNN: They saying they're no Proposition 9.
CONAN: The Proposition 8, I think.
LYNN: Yes 8, sorry.
Ms. GARRISON: You mean they say 'yes' on eight. CONAN: They say yes on eight. A yes vote is in favor of the ban on same sex marriage.
LYNN: Right, you're right. They say yes on Proposition 8.
LYNN: And I am - I don't watch a television during election times just so I don't watch ads, but the few ads that I've seen have been in favor of Proposition 8.
CONAN: So that's a conservative part of the state, presumably the forces there trying to appeal to their base as well.
LYNN: Yes. And I actually don't support Proposition 8 at all. And I feel that those are people's choices and that very - we should allow same sex marriages.
CONAN: OK, Lynn. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.
CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's go straight now to Catherine, and Catherine is calling us form Moraga in California.
CATHERINE (Caller): Hello.
CATHERINE: Representing the northern liberal part of the state. There are a few observations I've made that I'm really delighted to deal about - talk about nationally. What I've been through personally is as a woman, it's very, kind of interesting. I think on the abortion issue, even when it is perhaps, you know, being discussed in other states, men are actually taking up pretty heated support of a woman's right to choose. And that's to me a real cultural shift even as a liberal Berkeley grad, you know, born and raised here. And the other issue is just surprising is straight men - straight men in huge number who totally support gay marriage. They might not agree with the whole political end of it but really are vocal and on Facebook, I've joined a bunch of different sort of state promotion of couple's right to choose and there are straight guys.
CONAN: Jessica Garrison, does the polling bear Catherine out?
Ms. GARRISON: Well, I couldn't speak to the polling on straight men versus gay men because I don't think the pollsters are asking those questions. Or if they are, I haven't seen those numbers. But the two callers really point up an interesting thing about California which is there's a sort of rural-urban split that we see a lot. And we do see in rural areas like Redding which is a city but in a pretty rural area, the yes side, people are overwhelmingly in favor the proposition. In more urban areas, particularly in the Bar Area, people are overwhelmingly against it. So that's really interesting. And then you also make an interesting point about kind of confusion over yes and no because I think some people are struggling what does yes mean and what does no mean because it's a little bit counter-intuitive and I see people saying I'm against it so I'm going to vote no. I mean, no, I'm going to vote yes. So I think that will be an interesting issue as well.
CONAN: Catherine was also referring to the abortion amendment that's on the ballot in California, that's Proposition 4, and it's about parental notification. Jessica, I neglected to ask how that is doing at least in the polling. Do you know?
Ms. GARRISON: I should know. I don't have it right in front of me. The PVIC poll that came out last week, I just do not recall the numbers, I'm really sorry.
CONAN: We'll have somebody look them up online and we'll get them to you before we end up this segment.
Ms. GARRISON: Thank you very much.
CONAN: OK. I apologize. Catherine, thanks very much for the phone call.
CATHERINE: Thank you.
CONAN: And again, California not a swing state. You mentioned interest in how the Africa-American community will vote on this issue. Nevertheless, that whole issue of turnout, is California expecting record turn out like many other of the swing states are?
Ms. GARRISON: I think California is expecting record turnout and they're also expecting record turnout among people who are not usually at the polls which is younger voters and independents. And I think it has - I'm not a pollster and I'm not a polling expert - but some polling experts that I've talked to, it presents a little bit of a quandary for them because these are not people that they typically track as carefully, 100 percent reliable likely voters.
CONAN: Jessica Garrison of the Los Angeles Times. We're talking to her about the constitutional amendment proposed on the California ballot proposition. This is Proposition 8 that would define marriage as solely between one man and one woman. Gary marriage on the ballot also in Arizona and Florida. We're also talking in South Dakota with Patrick Lalley of the Argus Leader. Abortion, on the ballot also in Colorado and a parental notification proposition on the ballot in California. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's get Tammy. Tammy is on the line with us from Jacksonville in Florida.
TAMMY (Caller): Hello. How are you?
CONAN: Very well. Thanks.
TAMMY: We have a mixed feeling, I guess, up here in Jacksonville. Since we were kind of South Georgia, even though we are at Florida, it's a very Christian area, rigorous area and a lot of us, we had a conversation at a dinner meeting is that you say no, meaning, you're not voting for the gay marriage. Still, you feel there's some sort of certificate or something that they should have could give them the legal right in case someone dies or something like that, they have the right to the (unintelligible) that they share if someone's together 20 years.
CONAN: Right. Or hospital visitation rights, that sort of thing.
TAMMY: Yeah! So you vote no, because truly, marriage is between a man and a woman. But we don't have an option. But that don't excuse it. So we had this conversation over and we had dinner, a whole bunch of folks in our subdivision. And pretty much, that's the torn feeling because they didn't give us an option.
CONAN: And Tammy, how do you think it's breaking down in there in the state of Florida? Obviously, again, one of the places where it may be overwhelmed by the presidential election. Florida, a very hot place for the presidential politics this year.
TAMMY: Well, like the lady said who's commenting, they're not voting for it. So that's a no, right, I guess.
CONAN: I guess so.
TAMMY: Yes. And it's a good feeling and that would be another question - would we be given an option to vote on an alternative certificate that gives them the right for their loved ones?
CONAN: All right, Tammy. Thanks very much for the phone call. I appreciate it.
TAMMY: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go now to Erica. Erica is with us from San Jose in California.
ERICA (Caller): Hi. Can you hear me?
CONAN: Yes. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERICA: OK. Hi. Debate over Proposition 8 has recently taken kind of an ugly turn in my neighborhood in San Jose. It turns out, we have a large Mormon population in our neighborhood and they've hung some very large "Yes On 8" signs because they oppose gay marriage. And in front of one of the larger signs, someone parked a very large SUV and wrote "Bigots live here" on the windows of the SUV pointing to the house with the big "Yes On 8" banner. So my comment is that I've written some blogs about this and I'm getting a lot of feedback from people in California who read our blogs and it's really just that, it's an issue of protecting minority rights and it's an issue where people are divided by religion quite frankly. There are a lot of religious people who are opposed to gay marriage but there are a lot of religious people like myself who feel that God created everyone equally and that everyone should have equal rights. So I'm hoping we can keep the debate civil in California but I know that it's very emotional for a lot of people, also.
CONAN: And San Jose, obviously in the Bay Area, and briefly Jessica Garrison, the Mormon connection, that's played at least a part in the debate.
Ms. GARRISON: It certainly has. I mean there are three main religious groups that are in favor of Proposition 8 - the Mormon Church, the Catholic Church and a sizable group of evangelical churches. And they are all working to help pass it. The Mormon Church, individual members of the Mormon Church, have donated quite a lot of money in favor of Proposition 8 as have members of the Catholic Church and members of evangelical churches. And there have been sort of scattered reports around the state of people defacing yard signs and people getting into arguments about this issue. And so I think the caller from San Jose is exactly right. This is an extremely hot button issue and I think it's also one where people are sort of confronting their neighbors about it which is interesting.
CONAN: Erica, thanks very much for the call.
ERICA: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. We did check with the Public Policy Institute of California. According to their website support for Proposition 4, that's the parental notification amendment, is less than 50 percent so it is losing at this particular point in time. That makes it sound like its pretty close. Anyway, our thanks to Jessica Garrison of the Los Angeles Times, with us from member station KPCC in California and Patrick Lalley, I'm afraid you got overwhelmed by all the callers from California. But he's with the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls. With us today from South Dakota Public Radio. And this is NPR News.