Jewish pot activist Mason Tvert hits new high with marijuana legalization vote in Colorado

Say what you will about Mason Tvert, the Jewish activist behind the marijuana legalization campaign that passed in Colorado, the man clearly has a sense of humor.

Some years ago, in his efforts to persuade the public that marijuana is far less of a health menace than alcohol, Tvert famously challenged both the mayor of Denver and the heir to the Coors brewing fortune to a sort of intoxication duel: Tvert would smoke pot while the others drank, and they would see who dropped dead first.

Neither man took up Tvert on his offer.

[Related: Recipe for marijuana cholent]

But after Colorado voters on Nov. 6 adopted a newly permissive approach to marijuana following a campaign for which the 30-year-old was the public face and a leading strategist, Tvert's tomfoolery is no longer just a laughing matter. The measure, and a similar one adopted last week in Washington state, is a watershed, permitting residents over 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow up to six plants for recreational use.

Though somewhat overlooked amid the cacophony of a hard-fought presidential campaign, the new laws in Colorado and Washington are unprecedented.

Colorado's Amendment 64: The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012 is more liberal than even the Netherlands' famously permissive drug laws, which still consider pot possession a misdemeanor. The new law goes well beyond the medical marijuana provisions now on the books in 18 states that permit use of the drug with a doctor's permission, and directly challenges federal authority, which still considers cannabis a Schedule I controlled substance along with heroin and LSD.

“We have forced a major international, let alone national, discussion on this issue,” Tvert, the executive director of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, or SAFER, told JTA. “And I truly believe the more people talk about this issue amongst each other, the quicker we're going to see broader change in how our country and our state and our world treats marijuana.”

Tvert grew up in a Jewish family in Scottsdale, Ariz., and attended the University of Richmond. His consciousness around marijuana reform was galvanized in college when, for reasons he claims not to know, he was subpoenaed in a multijurisdictional investigation into marijuana use.

“It was really just a shakedown, more or less,” Tvert said. “They start with college kids who probably have a lot to lose. They work their way up from there.”

Tvert likes to compare that to an earlier incident in which, taken unconscious to the hospital to have his stomach pumped after excessive alcohol consumption, he was later released without any questioning from the police — despite being under age. The discrepancy informs one of the pro-legalization campaign's most frequent talking points: They say marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol, which itself was once the target of a costly and failed effort at prohibition, and should be regulated as such.

Critics counter that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug whose legalization would legitimate its use by the young and lead to a range of social ills.

After graduation, Tvert moved to Colorado and co-founded SAFER, a small group that raised just $132,000 in 2010 and shares office space with Colorado's Jewish newspaper, the Intermountain Jewish News. He was instrumental in two earlier legalization efforts in Colorado: the 2005 adoption of the Denver Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative, which permitted the possession of marijuana in Denver, and a 2007 measure that required officials to make marijuana offenses the city's “lowest law enforcement priority.” State law remained unchanged, however, and thousands of Coloradans still were being arrested each year for possession of marijuana.

Tvert persevered, developing a reputation as someone with a knack for media stunts.

In 2008, after a rash of alcohol-related disturbances at Denver's airport, Tvert called a news conference to urge authorities to allow marijuana in the airport's smoking lounge to cut down on traveler stress. Two years earlier he had a billboard erected near a speech by the visiting White House drug czar, John Walters, that quoted Walters saying that marijuana is the safest drug around. Tvert has called the state's governor — an owner of a popular Denver brew pub — a “drug dealer” whose product just happened to be legal. In another Tvert billboard, a woman in a marijuana-colored bikini appeared above the caption “Marijuana: No hangovers, no violence, no carbs!”

“He is just almost a media force of nature,” said Steve Fox, the president of SAFER and the director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, which provided about 90 percent of the funds for the $2.2 million Colorado campaign.

“He's just been brilliant in terms of being on message at all times, developing relationships with the media so they trust him and are willing to come out when he's doing some sort of event. And just the body of communications skills were just excellent for this. That's really where he's excelled.”

As the campaign moved to the state level, advocates buttoned up their image somewhat, attracting some high-profile support in the process. Former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo, who is best known for his staunch opposition to immigration, endorsed the initiative. Actress Susan Sarandon recorded a robocall targeting Colorado voters. Singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge did a radio spot.

The group also upgraded its message from one that emphasizes marijuana as a safer alternative to alcohol to one that emphasizes the potential tax revenues of regulated marijuana, misplaced law enforcement priorities and overcrowded prisons. Amendment 64 specifically requires the first $40 million in marijuana tax revenues be used to support capital funding for Colorado schools and, unlike a similar but failed attempt in 2010 in California, requires the state to design a tight regulatory regime.

The legalization campaign in Colorado no doubt benefited from a sea change in American attitudes toward the drug. A 1969 Gallup poll found that 84 percent of Americans opposed legalization; by last year the number was down to 46 percent, with 50 percent favoring legalization.

It's unclear exactly what happens next for Tvert and the wider marijuana legalization campaign. Washington could justify a crackdown under the doctrine of federal supremacy, but it's still unclear how the administration will react to the new laws in Colorado and Washington. After years of looking the other way at the budding medical marijuana industry in California, the Justice Department last year cracked down on pot shops in the state.

But it may not have the same incentive to repeat that in Colorado, marijuana activists say.

“There's no need for a knee-jerk federal response,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance in New York and one of the country's top marijuana activists. “There is ample time for rational discussion of how state regulatory authorities will accommodate federal concerns.”

Besides, Nadelmann added, “Colorado is an important swing state. Why make enemies unnecessarily?”

Why we support Prop. 30

There are those who say California doesn’t have seasons. But sadly, when it comes to California’s chronic budget deficit, each fiscal year brings yet another dreary forecast calling for drastic cuts to services for our state’s most vulnerable residents. Such bad fiscal weather is largely due to the structural deficit that’s been in place in California for more than 10 years.  But regardless of who the governor is, or who’s in the Legislature, we are stuck with the same cloudy outlook.

Seniors, the poor and the sick in California rely heavily on key state programs including MediCal, In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) and SSI/SSP to name just a few.  For these Californians, assistance from the state isn’t an “entitlement,” it’s oftentimes a lifeline in a time of economic crisis. For a senior confined to a wheelchair, it means having a professionally trained nurse come into the home to ensure that the medical regimen is on track and effective.  For a family of four that has experienced long-term unemployment, running out of financial resources, it means being able to provide asthma treatment for their youngest child without worrying about the cost of the pharmacy co-pay. And for people with disabilities, it means getting assistance with regularly delivered, nutritious meals that they would be unable to prepare or cook by themselves.

Proposition 30 is a sensible approach to creating shorter-term yet substantive changes that will help preserve critical programs. We are strong supporters of Proposition 30 not only because it will preserve funding for schools and law enforcement, but also because it will help stabilize California’s budget, combine spending cuts with additional revenues and preserve key social service programs that millions of Californians depend on. If passed, the initiative would raise California’s sales tax by 1/4 of a cent for four years and increase state income tax rates for individuals earning more than $250,000 through the year 2018.

Proposition 30 isn’t a panacea, but it is part of the budget puzzle than can help the state return to fiscal viability. Even with the passage of Proposition 30, we expect additional cuts to the types of programs administered by social service organizations throughout the state: care management to keep chronically ill adults out of far more expensive nursing homes, shelter services for victims of domestic violence, protective services for older adults, and transportation programs to give basic mobility to seniors and people with disabilities who are unable to drive themselves. But without the passage of Proposition 30, these programs are likely to be absolutely decimated, with catastrophic effects.

In the wake of the Great Recession, California’s policymakers, and now the general electorate, must make difficult choices: Should we continue to go with the status quo, leaving older, lower-income Californians to wither on the vine? Or should we create a system where the wealthiest of the wealthy, quite literally the top 1 percent of taxpayers (those earning an annual income of $533,000 or more), can help right the state’s fiscal ship and take care of those who need help the most?

We’ve certainly heard the arguments that increasing taxes during difficult economic times isn’t the right approach. Quite simply, we don’t buy them. If Proposition 30 were to fail, and government programs were to be drastically cut, not only would the reduction in services impact millions of Californians, but it would actually translate into less money being spent by lower- and middle-income families on basic household needs. Without such spending, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has determined, merely cutting state spending without raising taxes could further stall the economy — the last thing California needs at this juncture. What’s more, the tax increases are temporary, expiring beginning in 2016, giving time for the state’s economy to recover, for the Legislature to further reduce spending, and for California to ultimately find a more stable fiscal path.

For those of us who provide social services to the thousands of clients who walk through our door each day, Proposition 30 is not about politics. It’s about ensuring that Californians who so desperately need help, especially when it comes to health care, mental health services and social services, continue to have access to essential programs that help the needy among us maintain a very basic, no-frills quality of life — one that shouldn’t merely be a California dream.  Such a life should be a California reality. 

Former Assembly member Terry Friedman is president of Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Los Angeles. Paul S. Castro is JFS chief executive officer.

Jewish groups split on gay marriage ruling

Jewish groups split on a federal appeals court ruling that allows same-sex couples to marry in California.

The 2-1 decision Tuesday by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot measure that said same-sex marriages violated the state constitution. Prop 8 had reversed a decision the same year by the California state Supreme Court that had allowed same-sex marriage.

The National Council of Jewish Women, welcoming the appeals court decision, said it “marks a milestone in the effort to provide full rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.”

The Orthodox Union said the decision was disappointing.

“While Judaism also teaches respect for others and condemns discrimination, we, as Orthodox Jewish leaders, oppose any effort to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions,” said the umbrella group, adding that it would back an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In an apparent bid to head off just such an appeal, the appellate court’s decision was narrowly cast.

Instead of upholding a right to same-sex marriage, as some experts had anticipated it would do, the decision blasted Proposition 8 as a bid to discriminate against a class otherwise protected by existing California laws and precedents.

“Proposition 8 operates with no apparent purpose but to impose on gays and lesbians, through the public law, a majority’s private disapproval of them and their relationships,” the decision said.

The Reform movement, in praising the decision, noted its narrow scope. 

“While the decision is narrow, it is nonetheless an important step forward in the achievement of marriage equality,” said a statement by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Jonathan Stein, the president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. “As the purveyor of civil marriage, government should embrace an inclusive definition of marriage that establishes equality for all couples, regardless of the sex of the people involved.”

Agudath Israel of America, another Orthodox umbrella, faulted the court for avoiding the constitutional implications of recognizing same-sex marriage.

“The court undid the democratic choice of the voters who passed Proposition 8 without even finding that the constitution requires recognition of same-gender marriage,” it said. “There is something very wrong with this picture.”

Agudah called for an appeal of the decision to a fuller panel of the 9th Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rabbis on anti-gay marriage Prop 8: Yes, no, maybe

“Prop. 8 is presently the most crucial battle of the culture war here.” — Penny Harrington, legislative director, Concerned Women for America in California

The arguments and epithets surrounding state Prop. 8 are rising in volume and intensity as the Nov. 4 election draws near, so it may be useful to quote its exact wording.


  • Changes the California constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.
  • Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

Jewish advocates on both sides have joined the controversy with customary vigor. Emulating the brevity of the initiative itself, the lineup for the rabbinical and congregational leaders of the main denominations, and most of their adherents, comes down to:

Orthodox: support Prop. 8, marriage only between a man and a woman.

Reform, Reconstructionist: oppose Prop. 8, marriage for all.

Conservative: No official stand.

This equation may be somewhat simplistic, but in general on the left and right of the denominational spectrum the lines are sharply drawn, with little room for mavericks or closet dissenters.

Repeated inquiries by The Journal failed to yield any Orthodox rabbi willing to declare his opposition to Prop. 8 or any Reform rabbi supporting the ballot measure.

However, there was some “crossover,” according to Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, who polled the 290 members of his organization on their views.

Of the 120 responding, 112 (or 93 percent) voted against the proposition, six voted for, and two abstained. However, these results are not entirely conclusive, partly because only 41 percent of the membership responded, and because only six congregational Orthodox rabbis have chosen to affiliate with the organization.

However, leading spokesmen for all denominations, and supportive lay groups, discussed their views with The Journal.


Rabbi JJ Rabinowich, California director of the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel, noted that “marriage between a man and a woman has been fundamental to the Jewish people for thousands of years. We also agree with the many studies showing that children flourish best when raised by a mother and father.”

A more detailed argument for supporting Prop. 8 was put forward by Daniel Korobkin, one of the city’s most visible Orthodox rabbis and one of three signatories of the official statement by the centrist Orthodox Union as its West Coast director for community and synagogue services.

The statement endorses Prop. 8 and notes that “One of G-d’s first acts is to join Adam and Eve in marriage and to command them to build a family.”

It adds, “We know the threat to people of faith and houses of worship is real and under way…. Religious institutions and people face charges of bigotry and could be denied government funding and more if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land.”

Speaking in his capacity as “a community rabbi in Hancock Park,” Korobkin cited both biblical and contemporary reasons for his views.

While the Torah’s strictures against homosexual relations are well known, he said, talmudic literature goes beyond this injunction by warning that a society that endorses such a relationship endangers itself, which is a greater sin than the act itself.

“If we permit same-sex marriage today, why not incestual marriage tomorrow, or bestial marriage after that?” he asked.

Korobkin also expressed fears that defeat of Prop. 8 would endanger the right of religious adoption agencies to refuse adoptions to gay couples or compel schools to teach that all forms of marriage are equally viable.

He estimated that about 90 percent of Orthodox congregants agreed with his views, but that some might vote against Prop. 8 anyhow because they feared a breach in state-church separation or were uneasy about the overwhelming role of evangelical Christians in the pro-Prop. 8 campaign.

However, Korobkin emphasized, “We have tremendous empathy for gay people and what we stand for is not hate speech, nor are we prompted by malice. Some of our people are gay, though not overtly. When they come to us for guidance, we are extremely sympathetic.”


Neither the rabbinical nor the congregational arms of the Conservative movement are taking a stand on Prop. 8, according to Rabbi Richard Flom, president of the regional Rabbinical Assembly, and Joel Baker, regional executive director of the United Synagogue.

One reason may be the general reluctance of Conservative congregations to take political stands, given the wide ideological spread among its members, Baker suggested.

Many of his congregants, said Flom of Burbank Temple Emanu El, are trying to strike a balance between support for the civil rights of gays and “personal halachic [Jewish law] concerns.”

Flom himself recently gave a sermon opposing Prop. 8, partly based on his reservations about whether the state has any right to become involved in this issue.

“If I were a betting man, I would wager that the bulk of our members would oppose Prop. 8,” Flom said.

Indeed some of the most respected names in the Conservative rabbinate have publicly come out for the marriage rights of same-sex couples.

Rabbis Harold Schulweis and Edward Feinstein, both of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, can be seen and heard on YouTube strongly advocating the defeat of Prop. 8 (

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector and professor of philosophy at American Jewish University, is one of the most eloquent voices opposing Prop. 8.

Positioning same-sex marriage as a civil rights and equality issue, Dorff said, “We Jews have benefited greatly from the Enlightenment; it would be ironic, it would be mean, if we now came out against a minority within a minority.

“Marriage means that two people take responsibility for each other and their biological or adopted children, and society has a vested interest in that,” Dorff added.

Despite the official neutrality of the main Conservative organizations, Dorff believes that “an overwhelming majority” of Conservative rabbis and congregants will oppose Prop. 8.


Reform rabbis and congregants constitute the most vigorous segment of the Jewish community in fighting Prop. 8, supported by the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League and National Council of Jewish Women.

Rabbi Linda Bertenthal, a regional director for the Union for Reform Judaism, cited her organization’s resolution, which describes marriage as “a basic human right and an individual personal choice.”

The statement adds, “the state should not interfere with same-gender couples who choose to marry and share freely and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of civil marriage.”

Taking an active part in the campaign is Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, whose members are reaching out to voters through phone banks and collaboration with interfaith groups.

Eger was the first member of the clergy to officiate at a same-gender marriage in California on June 16 of this year, immediately after the State Supreme Court legalized such marriages by overturning a voter-approved 2000 initiative and statute to ban them.

Also heavily involved are such groups as the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at Hebrew Union College and Jews for Marriage Equality.

Psychologist Joel Kushner, director of the institute, observed that opposition to Prop. 8 is in line with the “Jewish heritage of justice,” while clearly not forcing any objecting rabbi to officiate at same-sex marriages.

Jews for Marriage Equality was founded by Steve Krantz, who retired after a notable career as a computer engineer to become a defender of the rights of one of his two sons, who is gay.

Krantz said he has compiled a list of 220 names, which include the majority of California rabbis, who went on record in opposing Prop. 8.

His goal now is to reach unaffiliated “gustatory” Jews through large ads in the primary Jewish weeklies in Los Angeles and San Francisco, working in partnership with the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

If Prop. 8 wins, he said, his organization will continue its work, but if the ballot measure loses, “we’ll have a big party.”

Striking an individual stance, separate from his collegial pro and con advocates, is Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. He was one of the two abstainers when the Board of Rabbis voted overwhelmingly to oppose Prop. 8.

“I felt that it violated the board’s ethical code to take a stance on a political matter,” he said.

Personally, he asserted, he would never officiate at a same-sex or interfaith marriage.

“I think my congregation would have a feeling of discomfort if its rabbi participated in such a ceremony,” Bouskila said. “In Sephardic tradition, we believe that religion is religion and politics is politics.”

As the saying has it, as goes California, so goes the nation, and the outcome of the Prop. 8 battle is being monitored across the country.

It is expected that the two sides of the issue will together spend a total of $40 million on their campaigns, the most for a social issue proposition, with contributions flowing in from some 10,000 people in 50 states.

The “No on Prop. 8” campaign has announced $100,000 contributions each from filmmaker Steven Spielberg, Richard Haas of the Levi Strauss dynasty and actor Brad Pitt.

Same-sex marriage is likely to remain a hot-button issue in the presidential race, with Prop. 8 backers looking to Sen. John McCain for ideological support, and opponents to Sen. Barack Obama.

On Thursday, Oct. 16, The Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee will present a nonpartisan forum on critical ballot issues. It’s at 7 p.m. in The Jewish Federation Goldsmith Center, Sanders Board Room, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For security reasons, R.S.V.P. by Oct. 13 to (323) 761-8145 or e-mail

Hot Propositions

California’s ballot initiatives have been making laws and national headlines since 1911. Designed by Governor Hiram Johnson to take politics directly to the people and over the heads of a corrupt legislature, the initiative process often focuses on populist issues. California voters have used their votes to spotlight issues across the political gamut from environmental concerns (Proposition 65) to property taxes (Proposition 13) to immigration (Proposition 187) to affirmative action (Proposition 209), campaign finance reform (Proposition 208), and legal gambling (Proposition 5) .

Banning government-recognition of same-sex marriage (Proposition 22) is the hottest issue in the March 7 election, but there are other hotly contested proposition’s on the primary ballot:

Proposition 1A

Legalizes and Expands

Gambling on Indian



This proposition authorizes slot machines, lottery games, and banking and percentage card games on Indian reservations. This proposition would allow 107 Indian tribes in California to each run two casinos.

Placed on the ballot by the State legislature, endorsed by both the State Democratic and Republican parties and backed by a multi-million dollar advertising campaign, this gambling initiative seems to be a heavy favorite to pass. Las Vegas casinos, defeated after spending a considerable sum against Prop. 5 (the unconstitutional proposition that has inspired Prop. 1A) have decided to sit this election out. California has legally banned slot machines and banking games like blackjack for over 100 years. “The Indians have basically paid off both parties,” observes Arnold Steinberg, a political strategist.

Among the benefits, according to supporters of the measure, will be increased self-sufficiency and jobs on often poor Indian reservations. Gambling provided $120 million in local and state taxes last year. The 33,000 slot machines would allow Californian residents to gamble legally in-state. The Morongo Band of Mission Indians donated $2 million to the campaign. Assemblyman Wally Knox has endorsed Prop. 1A.

The Community Research and Information Center (CRLC), which claims to reflect the opinion of “the Torah observant community,” opposes the gambling measure. “The Torah teaches us to avoid harmful activities,” says Howard Winkler, executive director of CRLC and a Los Angeles County Drug Commissioner.

Ironically, some secular voices come from the other end of political spectrum agree. A longtime liberal political activist says, “I oppose it on class grounds — the people with the least money and least education gamble the most.”

Proposition 21

Juvenile Crime

The controversial measure, sponsored by former Governor Pete Wilson, would try more violent juvenile offenders as adults and send them to adult prisons.

“Tougher sentences for teenage murderers and rapists,” advises Winkler’s Community Research and Information Center in their ads and flyers.

“How tough do you want to get? Is there no limit?” asks a Jewish public defender who expects the measure to pass. “At some point, we need to put money into schools and not jails.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California donated $5,003 opposing the measure.

Proposition 22

“Only a marriage between a

man and a woman is valid

in California.”

“Certainly Orthodox Jews are for it, ” says Steinberg. “Most Jews take marriage seriously, but what I call the professional Jews are trying to depict this proposition as an attack on civil rights.”

Steinberg, the creator of Prop. 209’s controversial ads that banned affirmative action in California, believes Prop. 22’s opponents “have used more excessive rhetoric.” Since California already has a domesticated partners act and hospitalization visitation for homosexuals, Steinberg argues, tolerance is not the issue. “This initiative says nothing about domestic partners or hospitalization rights… it defines marriage in 14 words. There is no hidden agenda.” The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles donated $144,998 to the Yes on Prop. 22 campaign.

Yet many Jewish organizations and elected officials disagree. “The Knight Initiative is hateful, hurtful and divisive,” says Rabbi Denise Eger of West Hollywood’s Congregation Kol Ami and No on Knight boardmember.

“Some issues, like Prop. 22, should never be voted on,” adds a longtime Jewish activist. “People can be fooled by simple slogans.”

The American Jewish Congress, Democrats for Israel, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, Union of American Hebrew Congregations and Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs of Temple Kol Tikvah all oppose Prop. 22. United States Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, Congressman Howard Berman, Tom Lantos and Henry Waxman also recommend voting no on Prop. 22. State Senator Tom Hayden, Assemblymembers Wally Knox and Sheila Kuehl also oppose limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. Kathy Levinson, president of E*Trade Group, donated $303,443 to the No on Knight campaign.

Proposition 25

Campaign Finance Reform

Sponsored by Common Cause, this complicated proposition regulates all aspects of election campaigns, sets limits on contributions and spending, adds public financing and mandates disclosures on the Internet. Prop. 25 also provides public financing of campaign media advertisements and voter information packets for qualifying candidates and requires ballot pamphlets to list top contributors on ballot measures.

“Government should be of the people, by the people, and for the people, not of the gambling casinos, by the gambling casinos, and for the gambling casinos,” according to Ron Unz, the proposition’s primary financial supporter with a $845,000 donation. Senator McCain has also endorsed the campaign finance reform initiative.

Other good government organizations, however, disagree. CALPIRG and League of Women Voters oppose Prop. 25 claiming it contains too many loopholes. “This 24-page initiative contains provisions that have already been found unconstitutional elsewhere,” notes Daniel Lowenstein, the former chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission in a ballot summary. “Prop. 25 has some good things in it, but we don’t get to pick and choose which ones we want. Overall, Prop. 25’s bad provisions and loopholes make it a cure worse than the disease.” California Teachers Association Issues PAC donated $275,000 to defeat the measure.

Proposition 26

Majority vote for school bonds

Local school boards currently must get a two-thirds vote to approve new school bonds. This measure would replace that daunting requirement with a simple majority vote.

A wide coalition of education and parents groups support Prop. 26 because it would make it easier for public schools to raise money. “Public education remains a core Jewish value,” observes a prominent Jewish liberal activist. Democrats for Israel, the California State PTA, AARP, the League of Women Voters and the California Teachers Association all support Prop. 26. Eli Broad, the chairman of Sunamerica, generously donated $147,591 to the Yes on Prop. 26 campaign.

“The advertising doesn’t mention taxes or spending,” notes Steinberg, a consultant who usually works with Republican candidates. “This will make it easier to raise property taxes so people living in apartments will vote for homeowners to pay more,” warns Winkler. “We are already double-taxed ” because many Orthodox Jewish parents send their children to private schools.

There are no contributors over $100 against this proposition. At a packed community forum on the propositions Wednesday night at Stephen S. Wise Temple, mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa spoke passionately in support of Prop. 26. “The only way we are going to make our schools great again is to bring back the middle class,” he told an audience of 400, “and they’re not going to come back if our schools look lik
e prisons.”

Proposition 28

Repeal Proposition 10 and

the Tobacco Tax

Jewish activists across the political spectrum find common ground on this one. Voters narrowly approved Prop. 10 in 1998 adding a 50-cent per cigarette pack tax to finance early childhood education and smoking prevention.

Many smokers feel like this tax forces them to exclusively finance programs that should be financed by the general population. The major tobacco companies have taken out full ads in the Times promising to stay out of this initiative. The Premium Tobacco Stores, however, has spent $994,147 to repeal the tax on cigarettes.

“The Jewish religion teaches that you should not do anything that will harm you,” argues Winkler. “Smoking harms you.” Producers Steven Speilberg gave $50,000, Norman Lear gave another $50,000, and Castle Rock executives Martin Shafer and Andrew Scheinman donated $25,000 to defeat the tobacco tax repeal.

The proliferation of ballot initiatives and growing thickness of voter information guides has also lead to some skepticism about the initiative process. “Many of these issues should have been dealt with by the State legislature,” says Michael Hirshfeld, the Jewish Community Relations Committee’s executive director. “Legislatures are supposed to legislate.”

The JCRC declined to endorse or oppose any of California ballot initiatives for the March primary. “Consensus is the main factor in whether the JCRC takes a position,” continues Hirschfeld. The JCRC also has a four-step process, beginning with legislative committee of the Government Relations board, in evaluating ballot proposals for a “distinct impact on the Jewish community.” The JCRC considered Propositions 22, 26, and 28 among others this year.

Noting the history of many ballot initiatives, such as Propositions 187, 5, and 208, being ruled unconstitutional, Hirshfeld says “many initiatives are also ill-conceived and poorly worded.”

Despite these doubts, California election officials expect a large turnout for the March 7 presidential primary and heavy voting on the ballot propositions.