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Local vote reflects concerns about economy

Mother Lode voters know California is amid a fiscal crisis, and they aren't about to authorize any new spending — even if it benefits the local community college.

If the Tuolumne and Calaveras counties defeat of a measure which would tinker with California's term-limit rules is any indication, voters here don't trust incumbent politicians to clean up the mess.

Finally, if something can bring our poverty-stricken state some extra money — even if it's through authorizing thousands new slot machines in the Mojave desert — we're all in favor.

We mountain voters came to the same conclusions reached by our counterparts statewide — except that we were more emphatic. We embraced winning measures with more enthusiasm, and we defeated doomed ones with more vehemence.

Also, more of us voted: Tuolumne County's 56.3 percent turnout was more than 10 percentage points higher than the statewide mark of 46.2, and 52 percent of Calaveras County voters went to the polls. Neither county was close to the California high, tiny Sierra County's 68 percent. But we were nowhere near the low, an abysmal 25.4 percent posted by Imperial County.

A prop-by-prop look at the local votes on Tuesday's statewide ballot measures:

• Proposition 92 (community college funding): Defeated 57.6 to 42.4 statewide; 61.5 to 38.5 in Tuolumne County and 64.5 to 35.5 in Calaveras.

California and foothill voters have been kind to education measures in the past (in 2004, local voters approved a $326 million junior college construction bond issue with a vote of better than 55 percent). But the time for this measure, which would have locked in a college funding formula and reduced tuition, was wrong.

Faced with a state deficit of more than $14 billion, voters were in no mood to approve a measure that would add even $300 million (legislative analyst estimate) to annual spending.

That Columbia College administrators urged a yes vote didn't help: Tuolumne County voters rejected Proposition 92 even more soundly than the state as a whole and nearly two-thirds of Calaveras voters were against it.

• Proposition 93 (term limits): Defeated 53.2 to 46.8 statewide; 54.5 to 45.5 in Tuolumne County and 58.4 to 41.6 in Calaveras.

Voters here, and throughout the state, were not fooled. On its surface 93 sounded good, reducing the limit on total time served in the Legislature from 14 to 12 years and — in the interests of bringing more experience to the Assembly and Senate — allowing politicians to serve all 12 years in the same chamber. But it included a self-serving loophole allowing incumbents who had just switched houses to enjoy 12 full years in their new legislative homes.

Although Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President Pro-tem Don Perata (who together raised millions for the Yes on 93 campaign) were the primary beneficiaries of the loophole, it would have extended the political lives dozens of lawmakers — including Tuolumne County's state senator, Dave Cogdill, and Dave Cox, who represents Calaveras in the senate. Voters here didn't care about that. Both counties rejected the measure more soundly than did the state.

• Propositions 94-97 (Indian gaming compacts): Approved 55.9 to 44.1 (averaged) statewide; 59.9 to 40.1 in Tuolumne County and 57.3 to 42.7 in Calaveras.

Few Mother Lode voters who Tuesday voted in favor of allowing four Southern California Indian tribes to add 17,000 slot machines to their mammoth casinos will ever pull a lever or collect a jackpot in the desert.

Almost certainly more important to those voters was the $9 billion proponents said the tribes would, over three decades, pay to the state in return for the new machines.

If there were any moral misgivings over further opening the door to casino-style gambling in the Golden State, they weren't evident in the vote here. Tuolumne County, home to the Me-Wuk Tribe's Black Oak Casino (which supported the compacts), supported the four measures with a vote of nearly 60 percent.

Then there's the curious case of Proposition 91. Even those who put this measure on the ballot urged its defeat in the state ballot pamphlet. They pointed out that Proposition 1-A, passed by California voters in 2006, had already accomplished the same thing.

Still, more than 42 percent of the state's voters (and even more here in the foothills) voted yes, showing that the ballot pamphlet may trail Stephen King or People magazine as reader favorites.

With their 31,623 voters accounting for a minuscule .004 percent of the California total of nearly 7.3 million, Tuolumne and Calaveras county voters certainly won't guide the architects of future ballot propositions. But Tuesday's results show that, if anything, voters here are more concerned about the economy than those in the rest of the state.

No, politicians in Sacramento may take no notice. But those in Sonora and San Andreas know what's good for them — and for us — they will.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board — Publisher Ron Horton; editor Teresa Chebuhar; managing editor, news Craig Cassidy; senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.

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