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Locking in Money for Prevention

By mid-May 1987, Curt Mekemson (ALA), Tony Najera (ALA), Betsy Hite (ACS), and Assembly Member Lloyd Connelly (D-Sacramento) had begun discussing the transition from the legislative to the initiative process.[1][2] Tim Howe, Connelly's chief of staff, took responsibility for writing the initiative. His goal was to present something clear and understandable to the public that was as impervious to industry attack as possible. Mekemson, Hite, Najera, and Connelly were Howe's primary sources of feedback during this initial drafting.

As the details of the initiative began to take shape, Mekemson was adamant that some of the revenues go toward funding tobacco prevention programs. Even before the Legislature defeated ACA 14, he predicted,

I think we have three major arguments for dealing with the tobacco problem: health impacts, kids, and economic impacts. While we may need to substantiate each of these in greater detail, they are real and extremely difficult for the tobacco industry, or others, to challenge. In these arguments lies the


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justification for increasing the tax and for focusing the tax revenues on the problem. Most important is prevention. Everything else pales in relation to persuading kids not to smoke and helping smokers to quit. This is our justification for demanding that a substantial portion of the funds go for school and community health education. Without this guarantee, prevention funds will be eliminated whenever short term crises emerge.[2] [emphasis in original]

Mekemson's early insistence that money for prevention be tied to the initiative proved critical in fights over implementation years later. Even with this strong language, public health proponents would face an uphill fight to maintain the prevention elements within Proposition 99 against strong opposition in the Legislature from the tobacco industry and the CMA.

Connelly wanted some legislative discretion to make the proposition less vulnerable to attack as an instance of “ballot-box budgeting.” In a May 13, 1987, memorandum, Mekemson was worried about not including some restrictions. He wrote, “I continue to feel that we need to set percentages. I know it isn't nice not to trust the infinite wisdom of the legislature, but I don't. If it comes down to dealing with immediate crises as opposed to funding long term solutions, the pressure for the immediate is tremendous.”[1] Mekemson, Najera, Hite, and Connelly decided to hold a “high-level/high-stakes” meeting of leaders from the participating organizations and other interested groups. The meeting occurred in San Francisco on June 17, 1987, with the CMA, California Association of Hospitals and Health Care Systems (CAHHS), Planning and Conservation League (PCL), Blue Cross of California, California Dental Association, California Thoracic Society, and the Health Officers Association of California attending. The following revenue allocation was presented at the meeting: 25 percent to medical care (which included 5 percent for research), 20 percent to education, 5 percent to the environment (nonhealth), and the remaining 50 percent to established accounts, to be allocated by the Legislature.

In writing the initiative, the Coalition tried to select language that would broaden public support. One important instance of this approach was the titling of the initiative. The polling conducted for the Coalition (by Charlton Research) as well as for the tobacco industry (by Tarrance and Associates) had showed that Proposition 99 was viewed more positively when framed as a health issue. So Connelly pushed the Coalition to come up with a title that emphasized the health message; this title would help define the issue in the campaign, in the literature mailed to all voters, and in the voting booth where voters were reading the ballot items. According to Hite, “We submitted for title and summary with this


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real great encouragement from Lloyd about how it needed to be the `Health Protection Act, Health Protection Act!' And the opponents were just scared to death that was how it was going to get titled. And guess what? We got it titled. Attorney General Van de Kamp was very good to us.”[3]

A seemingly minor clause in Proposition 99, as it was eventually finalized, was to cause great problems for tobacco control advocates. The drafters of the initiative specified that it could be amended by a four-fifths vote of both houses of the Legislature if the amendments to the initiative were “consistent with its purposes.” This clause was included to avoid criticism that the initiative would be inflexible; as a practical matter, the authors felt that only technical amendments would be able to garner this level of support. Pro-tobacco forces would eventually use this clause to loot Proposition 99 revenues.


previous chapter
Beating the Tobacco Industry at the Polls
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