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Unintended consequence: Defeat of Proposition 73 could generate support for ‘death with dignity’

By now, we’ve probably heard most every potential spin on Tuesday’s election
results. How they figure into the gubernatorial election. What they mean for
the budget. And whether they strengthen the unions, or the Democrats, or the
notion of bipartisan cooperation. You name it.

Pushing all that aside, there’s a good case to be made that the election
results may have a very positive influence on the fate of AB651, one of the
year’s most talked-about bills. Talked about, especially, by me: I work for
one of the bill’s authors.

The bill is AB 651, by Assemblywoman Patty Berg, D-Eureka, and Assemblyman
Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys. It would give terminally ill Californians the same
rights afforded Oregonians under that state’s landmark Death With Dignity
Act.

Social and religious conservatives don’t like AB 651, to put it mildly. They
hate it, and have rallied parishioners against it with a fervor rare even in
the hyperbole-prone world of legislative advocacy. In meeting after meeting
with lawmakers and staff, they have pushed the notion that voting in favor
of AB 651 is politically risky.

They warn of wasted political capital. They warn of a backlash from voters.

They don’t just ignore nonpartisan polls that show nearly three out of four
Californians support the idea, they dispute the claims. They dispute the
Field Poll. They dispute the PPIC. It’s the same tactic used, interestingly
enough, by supporters of the governor’s ill-fated slate of ballot measures.

Supporters of the bill continue to say that it is, in fact, a perfectly safe
vote. In addition to the large public polls, which show consistent support,
they’ve conducted their own opinion surveys and found that voters won’t be
moved at all by a vote for AB 651.

And that’s where Proposition 73 comes in.

Proposition 73, the parental notification initiative, sought to tap into the
very same vein of social conservatism that opponents of AB 651 have been
touting. But guess what? It didn’t work. California is, as it has been, a
socially progressive state.

Conservative religious leaders took to the pulpits and urged support for
Proposition 73. They rallied the faithful. This, after all, was their
signature issue: abortion. It was on the ballot, they could not only have
restricted access to the procedure, they could have enshrined in the state
constitution that abortion was, basically, murder. California’s own
constitution would have included a right-wing bumper sticker. But this was
not to be.

In a bit of good news for the Berg-Levine team, it was many of the same
churches who flooded Capitol offices with little postcards against AB 651,
who tried to pass Proposition 73.

And now the failure of Proposition 73 undercuts their ability to give
lawmakers the jitters on Death with Dignity. Because, seriously, if
conservatives can’t pass a ballot measure on their most bedrock issue, why
should we think they drum up support to punish a lawmaker who votes for AB
651.

Sure, the bill’s opponents will say that their opposition is broader than
just religious conservatives. Maybe so, but not very much broader. The real
support, the money for a campaign strategist and a professional spokesman
does indeed come from the same source as the opposition to 73.

Bottom line, the failure of the right to curtail reproductive freedom speaks
volumes about their ability to make a difference at the polls. And that in
turn speaks volumes about the credibility of their argument that supporting
the rights of the terminally ill is a risky business.

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