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California Chooses Stem Cell Research

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), breaking with fellow Republicans to flex his own political muscle, persuaded his California constituents to spend $3 billion on stem-cell research. In another hot-button ballot issue, voters in 11 states overwhelmingly supported banning gay marriage.

On a day when voters in 34 states considered 163 wildly disparate proposals, voters in Montana okayed the use of medical marijuana; Oklahomans opted to take a chance on a state lottery; and Arizona residents passed a first of its kind crackdown on illegal immigrants.

In Alaska (search), residents blew off a proposal to decriminalize marijuana (search) — a vote hailed by the nation's drug czar, John Walters. "This public health victory reaffirms the simple, inescapable fact that no family, no community, no state is better off with more drug use," he said.

Nevertheless, 43 percent of the Alaskan voters supported the decriminalization effort and backers promised to revisit the issue.

Well south of the tundra, Schwarzenegger's enthusiastic backing of Proposition 71 (search) helped land sunny California on the cutting edge of a technology questioned by the Bush administration and others. Polls indicated Schwarzenegger's endorsement, coupled with commercials featuring the late "Superman" star Christopher Reeve, put the proposal over the top.

The paralyzed Reeve, who died last month, believed the research might find a cure for spinal cord injuries.

Backers of the research said the state money was needed because the Bush administration had restricted funding to about $25 million a year. In typical California style, it pitted Hollywood stars on either side of the issue: Parkinson's sufferer Michael J. Fox was a backer, while Mel Gibson was an opponent.

The flip side of the Schwarzenegger success was the wipeout suffered by supporters of same-sex marriage, although gay-rights activists said they hoped to overturn the new laws in court.

"The results just go to show that the citizens ... clearly understand the value of natural marriage," said Christina Rondeau, director of the North Dakota Family Alliance, a group that supported the amendment.

The margin Tuesday in North Dakota was 3-1 in favor — the same as in Georgia and Kentucky as the proposal passed in all 11 states where it was on the ballot. The margin was 6-1 in Mississippi, while the amendment was also approved in Arkansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah.

The issue was put on the ballot in six states through petition drives waged by conservative, church-backed citizens groups. But support of the amendment appeared widespread; in Ohio, it received equal support from men and women, blacks and whites.

Gay-rights activists quickly raised the possibility of court challenges in Georgia, Ohio and Mississippi, although supporters predicted the new laws would hold up.

Montana did become the 10th state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, while Oklahoma's OK of a lottery left only nine states without one.

In Arizona, a new measure — unique in the United States — would require proof of citizenship for voter registration and proof of immigration status to receive certain government services.

Supporters said it would curtail fraud in the state where the most illegal immigrants enter the country from Mexico; Arizona spends millions of dollars annually on food stamps, welfare and other social services for illegal immigrants.

"People understand at a gut level that we've got a problem with illegal immigration and we've got to address it," said Randy Pullen, a leading supporter of Proposition 200.

In a justice-related issue, Californians rejected a proposition that would rewritten the state's three-strikes sentencing law, permitting 25 years-to-life sentences only if third-time felons were convicted of a serious or violent crime instead of the sometimes minor offenses permitted under current law.

It was a tough day for cigarette smokers. Columbus, Ohio, banned smoking in public places, while taxes on a pack of cigarettes were boosted in Colorado, Montana and Oklahoma. The biggest increase was in Montana, where the tax went from 70 cents to $1.70 a pack.

It was a good day for workers in Florida and Nevada, where the state minimum wage was boosted to $6.15 an hour — a buck more than the federal minimum.

Florida voters also approved a measure limiting the privacy rights of girls seeking abortions, giving the Legislature leeway to pass a law requiring parental notification. Lawmakers had been stymied in efforts to pass such a law by court rulings that say they violated the privacy provision of the state constitution.

In Oregon, voters rejected a measure that would have dramatically expanded its existing medical marijuana program.

Colorado defeated a measure would have allocated its electoral votes proportionally, based on the popular vote for president, and would have applied to this year's race between President Bush and John Kerry.

Voters in Maine and South Dakota both declined opportunities to lower taxes. South Dakotans defeated a bid to scrap the sales tax on groceries, while a measure to cap property taxes lost in Maine after opponents said it would force layoffs of teachers and firefighters.