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Maine casino plan among wide array of US ballot items

Gambling just one of issues in play

Maine could get its first casino after the costliest referendum campaign in state history. San Franciscans could mandate a "living wage" of $8.50 an hour for local workers. And the mellow of the world could take heart if Denver voters endorse a call for citywide stress reduction.

Across the country, state and local ballots on Nov. 4 will include an array of propositions -- dealing with gay rights, mass transit, and economic development, among other topics.

Bolinas, Calif. -- population 1,200 -- has perhaps the oddest item, sponsored by a woman known for wearing hats made from tree bark. Evoking blueberries, bears, and skunks, Measure G asks that Bolinas declare itself a "nature-loving town."

In terms of bitterness and spending (more than $6.8 million by the two sides), the Maine casino proposal had few competitors during this campaign season.

It envisions development of a $650 million gambling resort in struggling Sanford, in southern Maine, about 90 miles north of Boston.

It would be built by two Indian tribes and a Las Vegas developer, and create thousands of jobs at the resort and possibly thousands more elsewhere if projections of 6.6 million out-of-state visitors were to come true.

Some opponents, including Governor John Baldacci, a Democrat, say the claims of economic gains are overstated. Others say the casino would aggravate social problems or tarnish Maine's image as a mecca for outdoor recreation.

"Do you want the tourism industry cannibalized by a business built on losers?" asked state Representative Mary Black Andrews at a recent opposition rally.

Several other gambling proposals also are on Nov. 4 ballots.

Colorado voters will decide whether to allow video lottery terminals at five racetracks and at casinos in three gambling towns.

Voters in Iowa's Linn County will be asked to authorize a riverboat casino in Cedar Rapids.

And voters in Indiana's Orange County will decide whether to allow a riverboat casino at French Lick. That's the hometown of Celtics great Larry Bird, an investor in one of five groups vying to operate the casino.

Along with the gambling measure, Colorado has another contentious ballot item -- a $2 billion bond proposal for water projects that has pitted farmers from western counties against city folks.

Western Coloradans fear the proposal would enable populated eastern areas to take their water with little regard for the west's future.

In Colorado's biggest city, the most eye-catching ballot item is called the "peace initiative" -- it would require Denver officials to implement programs to reduce stress and promote peace.

The initiative's guiding force is Jeff Peckman, a former transcendental meditation teacher who says group meditation "can generate a field of peacefulness and calm."

City councilwoman Jeanne Faatz is among the skeptics; she doubts local criminals would partake in meditation. Said another council member, Charlie Brown: "I don't think government should be insisting people should have a nice day if they don't want to."

Stress of another sort -- repetitive stress in the workplace -- is the subject of a ballot item in Washington state.

The homebuilders association and other business groups want to repeal new ergonomics rules seeking to reduce workplace injuries caused by repetitive motion, heavy lifting, and awkward positions.

Labor unions support the rules; opponents say they are too costly.

Many business groups in San Francisco are urging defeat of the "living wage" proposal there. It would require a minimum wage of $8.50 for any work performed in the city, except for nonprofit organizations and businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

Voters in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, will decide if unmarried partners -- gay or straight -- should be given official recognition through creation of a domestic-partnership registry.

Although registries have been established elsewhere by elected officials, Cleveland Heights is the first place where the voting public will decide the issue, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

In Tucson, voters will decide whether to finance a light rail system by raising local sales taxes.

In Houston, a proposed $640 million bond issue would help expand a light rail system scheduled to open early next year.

Voters in Richmond will decide whether to start holding direct mayoral elections or maintain the current system, in which the city council elects the mayor.

Blacks have held a majority on the nine-member council since 1997, and some black leaders fear the change would enable a well-financed white candidate to prevail by winning a plurality in a race against several blacks.

Supporters of the change include former governor Douglas Wilder, a black who says direct election would improve accountability.

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