( LatWp ) - California could become the first state to formally call for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq under a ballot proposal the state Senate approved.
The Senate vote came the day after lawmakers weighed in on another Middle East country by passing legislation that would require the state's public pension funds to shed certain investments in Iran. The measure, which could affect about $20 billion invested in 10 companies, is meant to protest Iran's reputed pursuit of nuclear weapons and support of terrorism.
The 50-minute debate over the Iraq bill broke down party lines and was one of the most passionate moments of Wednesday.
``That war is costing California dearly,'' said Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, an Oakland Democrat who sponsored the measure and noted that 340 soldiers from the state have died so far.
The resolution is an advisory measure that voters would consider on the presidential primary ballot in February. The proposal is expected to be approved by the Assembly, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not said publicly whether he would sign it.
Democrats depicted Perata's nonbinding measure -- a rarity in California's century of direct democracy -- as a way to prod President Bush to give up on the increasingly unpopular war. They decried the conflict as a waste of money that could have been better spent on domestic concerns.
Republicans called the idea a ``cynical'' ploy that would deflate military spirits while increasing Democratic turnout in an election when Perata and other legislative leaders hope to have another ballot initiative that would ease California's term-limit rules.
GOP lawmakers also said a nonbinding referendum on the war would be redundant, because November's midterm election, in which Democrats gained control of both houses of Congress, made clear the country's dissatisfaction with the war.
``You would think an election on this subject had never taken place,'' said Sen. Roy Ashburn of Bakersfield. ``Is there any one among us who doubts that uppermost on the minds of the voters who cast ballots last November was the issue of the conduct of the war in Iraq?''
Ashburn said California gained a powerful voice in Congress when the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives elevated San Francisco's Nancy Pelosi to speaker. He chided Pelosi and other Democrats for failing to alter the direction of the war and said a ballot resolution on the war would further ``raise false expectations'' that the war would be immediately brought to a close.
The bill on divestment from Iran passed the Assembly unanimously Tuesday. It would require the boards that oversee the pension funds of state workers and teachers to withdraw investments in companies with business operations in the defense, nuclear or petroleum industries in Iran.