Voters reshape legal landscape in Arizona
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 8, 2006

Amanda J. Crawford and Pat Kossan

Arizonans made sweeping changes to state law on Tuesday, ushering in a higher minimum wage, passing a strict statewide smoking ban and a higher tobacco tax, improving living conditions for some farm animals and restricting cities' use of eminent domain.

Sending a loud message to national policymakers on immigration, voters here on the front line of the border battle overwhelmingly approved all three ballot initiatives targeting illegal immigrants and made English the state's official language.

But in one of the tightest contests of the election, it appeared as of late last night that Arizona voters could be the first in the nation to reject a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Proposition 107, which would define marriage as one man and one woman and block governments from recognizing domestic partnerships, was behind by a slim margin at press time but was still too close to call.

A measure supported by environmental groups to preserve state trust land was also too close to call, while a competing measure offered by the Legislature failed.

Voters soundly rejected a pay raise for legislators and two proposals to increase voter turnout by holding a voter lottery and increase the use of mail-in ballots.

With 19 propositions on the ballot, Arizona voters had to weigh more issues than anywhere else in the nation. In raising the minimum wage, they followed national trends, but could set national history if the marriage ban fails.

Fred Solop, director of the social research laboratory at Northern Arizona University, said if the marriage ban fails, it shows that the unique strategy used by opponents here paid off.

Opponents focused on the impact of the initiative not on gay couples but on unmarried couples gay and straight who would lose domestic-partner health benefits offered by government employers if it passes.

Solop said that the message from voters was clear on the immigration initiatives.

"People are defining immigration as one of the most important issues of the election season," he said. "They are willing to embrace any and every solution that is put on the table."

Bruce Merrill, a political science professor and pollster at Arizona State University, said he doesn't think that the election brought many surprises.

He said people in Arizona are frustrated that the federal government has not listened to them and has done nothing to protect this country's borders from illegal immigration.

"The people of Arizona, Republicans and Democrats, have very strong feelings that something needs to be done," he said.

Merrill said voters stood up for fairness by approving the minimum-wage hike and possibly rejecting the gay marriage ban.

"America has an incredible sense of fairness and if you violate that voters really come down on you hard," he said.