Monday, Oct. 26, 2009 | 2 a.m.
The biggest fans of social conservative Richard Ziser’s newly filed anti-abortion ballot initiative might be Nevada Democrats facing the ballot in 2010.
With the top of the party’s ticket likely to be the uncharismatic duo of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his son, gubernatorial candidate and Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid, political observers say an issue like abortion could mobilize the Democratic base.
“The top of the Democratic ticket right now doesn’t inspire a lot of enthusiasm,” said Erik Herzik, professor of political science at University of Nevada, Reno. “If you throw in a red meat issue like abortion rights, it will activate the progressives and the second-tier voters in a way they weren’t before.
“This is a gift to the Democratic Party.”
The Republican base is already fired up, Herzik said, with a strong dislike of President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Reid.
Most of the Democratic base, meanwhile, views Harry Reid with emotions somewhere between resignation and loathing for his not being liberal enough, he said.
Ziser, who earlier this decade successfully fronted a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, dismissed the early reading of his proposal’s political ramifications. Social conservatives will be just as energized as progressives, making the effect on turnout a wash, he said.
Regardless, Ziser said, the principles behind the initiative are more important than any negative effect it could have on Republicans or conservatives.
“This is not a political decision,” said Ziser, who was the Republican challenger to Harry Reid in 2004. “If all people think about are the political ramifications of something, maybe they’re not so principled. We’re not doing this because of a political outcome.”
The Personhood Nevada Petition, filed Wednesday with the secretary of state, would change the state constitution to define a “person” as anyone possessing a human genome, from the beginning of his biological development. It would ensure due process for all such persons.
If it gets enough signatures to make the ballot, voters would have to approve the initiative in 2010 and 2012 for it to become part of the Nevada Constitution.
Ziser said the proposal would ban abortion, including in cases of rape or incest, though he was less clear about instances in which the mother’s life is in danger.
He also said that the petition would protect the elderly from so-called “death panels,” which some conservatives have claimed would come about through Democrats’ proposed health care reform. The existence of such panels has been widely dismissed by experts.
Ted G. Jelen, a professor of political science at UNLV who specializes the politics of abortion, said the initiative is aimed at restricting abortions. “The argument that they’re trying to protect grandmothers is thrown in,” he said, calling the reasoning behind its inclusion “absurd.”
End-of-life panels are “something the right-wing punditocracy has made up,” Jelen said.
He said he believes the ultimate aim of the initiative is to spur the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion. While the matter makes it way through the courts, state governments might enforce the constitutional change, he said.
Ziser acknowledged that the petition is part of a national movement to define “personhood.” Groups in “six or seven states” are pushing similar amendments, he said.
Jelen said the measure is unlikely to pass because of Nevada’s libertarian streak. (In 1990, Nevada voters put Roe v. Wade into the statutes.) But he can see it getting the required 97,000 signatures to make the ballot.
“Nevadans like the idea of referendum or initiatives,” he said. “The argument that has been made to me by signature gatherers is that you do not necessarily need to agree with it — should people have right to vote on it? That’s very appealing to Western voters.”
Others doubt it will make the ballot.
Jim Ferrence, a Democratic political consultant, said he expects potential signers will be turned off because “it’s too dogmatic.”
“If it does qualify, I expect it to have a crushing defeat and the effect of helping Democrats across the board,” he said.
Robert Uithoven, a senior political consultant to Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sue Lowden, said it’s too early to predict the effect, but generally “social conservative measures seem to have benefited Republicans more than Democrats in the past.”