Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Nuisance" Ballot Initiatives - Translation: Voters Too Stupid To Decide

Let's see how calm I can stay [not very it tuns out] while I give my reaction to a story in today's ADN.
"Scott Hawkins, founder of ProsperityAlaska believes the voting public should not decide complex tax questions or other measures that increase regulations or permitting of businesses. . .

'Our elected officials spent years and thousands of hours in hearings and hired experts and oil taxation is not a suitable subject for the ballot.'"
Where to begin?  There's so much packed in this article.

It cites a question sent to candidates for state office that asks:
"whether the rules for putting initiatives and referendums on the ballot need reform and are being 'abused resulting in a nonstop series of bad ballot measures that Alaska's business community must spend millions of dollars every 1-2 years to fight.'"
Let's get this straight.  Now that business - big and small - has helped elect a conservative legislature that is so lopsided that Democrats are pretty much ignored, they want more.  Business gets most of the legislation they want.  Apparently that isn't enough.

Because when the public gets riled enough by the kind of legislation that gets through this one-party legislature, they write petitions and gather signatures around the state to give the public the opportunity to put some brakes on the business express coming out of the legislature.  So, since Hawkin's friends already are spending so much money contributing to conservative campaigns to get the loyalty of well over half the legislature, they shouldn't have to deal with fighting citizen referendums, the only check left for the public when they think terrible legislation has been passed, or good legislation has been stymied.

And it isn't enough that the petitioning requirements have been made more difficult.  Ballotpedia explains: 
"Signatures equal to 7% of the total district vote in the last general election must be collected in each of 3/4 of the 40 Alaska House districts.
An older, less restrictive, distribution requirement was changed by a legislatively referred ballot measure on the November 2004 ballot, the Distribution Requirement for Initiatives Act. That measure was approved with 51.7% of the vote. The older requirement was that proponents must collect petition signatures from each of 2/3 of Alaska's 40 state House districts--only one voter needed to sign from each of the 27 districts."
But those pesky citizens have managed to overcome these obstacles to get initiatives on the ballot.  In August, they got enough signatures to challenge SB 21 that gave oil companies about a $2 billion a year tax break.  And the oil companies had to spend millions to defeat the referendum, and it was relatively close.  So why not cut off this last way that people can keep their legislature accountable?

I'd also note that I spent a session in Juneau as a blogger.  There are a number of legislators who have no more smarts than the 'public' Scott distrusts.  And then there are those who are reasonably smart, but ethically challenged.  And then there are those whose world view, apparently like Scott's, sees business as the savior of humankind. 

What else might voters be incompetent to decide on Scott?

Don't get me wrong.  I think the voters of Alaska make plenty of mistakes.  They voted to amend the constitution to restrict marriage to one man and one woman.  The voted to make English the official language of the state.  They've elected Don Young again and again and again.  But I trust them a lot more than I trust the oil industry or the various big business interests to decide what's best for Alaska's people now and in the future. 

 Before posting this I checked ProsperityAlaska's website. 

Prosperity has the nerve to run a headline like "Alaska Budgets Have Run Amok!" yet, they have a picture rotating through their header with the  corporate supporters who lead the Republican majority in the legislature along with Gov. Sean Parnell all of whom fought for and passed these out of control budgets!  

Image from PosperityAlaska Header

Another headline "Facing Down "Enviro Whack Jobbery" goes on to tout the bill that passed the legislature that threw out regulations on the cruise industry that were passed by an initiative.
"An important vote on cruise ship wastewater regulations brought the environmental extremists in the Alaska Legislature floating to the surface.  With solid leadership from Gov. Parnell, sound science carried the day. "
Environmental extremists?  In the Alaska legislature?  I think he means anyone who mentions any regulation on business.  This sounds like the language of the old Anchorage Times back in the 1970s.  What about the pro-business extremists in legislature?  These are folks who worship the free-market with no idea that some of its greatest supporters warned that it has serious flaws.  Everything has flaws and we need to use all tools with awareness of when they don't work.   And these folks need to recognize and protect against market's failures.  Anyone who points them out and tries to correct them seems to be pilloried. 

The cruise ship industry is one of the Outside corporations that treat Alaska like a colony and were not happy at all when citizens put restrictions on them through an initiative.  The legislation the site touts gutted much of that citizen initiative. 

Thank you Alex DeMarban (ADN reporter) for writing about this so the rest of us become alerted to this attack on the rights of Alaskans.  An attack on the Alaska Constitution.

Oh yeah, the initiative and the referendum are spelled out in Article 11.  From the Lt. Gov's website:

Article 11 - Initiative, Referendum, and Recall

§ 1. Initiative and Referendum

The people may propose and enact laws by the initiative, and approve or reject acts of the legislature by the referendum.

§ 2. Application

An initiative or referendum is proposed by an application containing the bill to be initiated or the act to be referred. The application shall be signed by not less than one hundred qualified voters as sponsors, and shall be filed with the lieutenant governor. If he finds it in proper form he shall so certify. Denial of certification shall be subject to judicial review. [Amended 1970]

§ 3. Petition

After certification of the application, a petition containing a summary of the subject matter shall be prepared by the lieutenant governor for circulation by the sponsors. If signed by qualified voters who are equal in number to at least ten per cent of those who voted in the preceding general election, who are resident in at least three-fourths of the house districts of the State, and who, in each of those house districts, are equal in number to at least seven percent of those who voted in the preceding general election in the house district, it may be filed with the lieutenant governor. [Amended 1970, 1998 & 2004]

§ 4. Initiative Election

An initiative petition may be filed at any time. The lieutenant governor shall prepare a ballot title and proposition summarizing the proposed law, and shall place them on the ballot for the first statewide election held more than one hundred twenty days after adjournment of the legislative session following the filing. If, before the election, substantially the same measure has been enacted, the petition is void. [Amended 1970]

§ 5. Referendum Election

A referendum petition may be filed only within ninety days after adjournment of the legislative session at which the act was passed. The lieutenant governor shall prepare a ballot title and proposition summarizing the act and shall place them on the ballot for the first statewide election held more than one hundred eighty days after adjournment of that session. [Amended 1970]

§ 6. Enactment

If a majority of the votes cast on the proposition favor its adoption, the initiated measure is enacted. If a majority of the votes cast on the proposition favor the rejection of an act referred, it is rejected. The lieutenant governor shall certify the election returns. An initiated law becomes effective ninety days after certification, is not subject to veto, and may not be repealed by the legislature within two years of its effective date. It may be amended at any time. An act rejected by referendum is void thirty days after certification. Additional procedures for the initiative and referendum may be prescribed by law. [Amended 1970]

§ 7. Restrictions

The initiative shall not be used to dedicate revenues, make or repeal appropriations, create courts, define the jurisdiction of courts or prescribe their rules, or enact local or special legislation. The referendum shall not be applied to dedications of revenue, to appropriations, to local or special legislation, or to laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety.

§ 8. Recall

All elected public officials in the State, except judicial officers, are subject to recall by the voters of the State or political subdivision from which elected. Procedures and grounds for recall shall be prescribed by the legislature.
You best check the link now before the governor thinks the Constitution is too radical to have on the state's website.


  1. Thank you for saying what my brain was thinking (and saying it far better too!) Now, what about your thoughts on the SOA legislature confidentiality agreement in the works?

    1. Yes, another attempt to get the pesky public out of the process. So much to write about, so little time. Why not write it yourself, anon, and email it to me and I'll let you guest post it.


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