Eight members, most of them strongly in favor of gun rights, were elected to the Anchorage Fish and Game Advisory Committee on Tuesday night, an election that brought an overflow crowd to vote at Anchorage School District headquarters.
Lawyer Kneeland Taylor, an unsuccessful candidate, said the election became a test of wills between clashing interest groups -- essentially consumptive and nonconsumptive users. Each side e-mailed and handed out paper reminders Monday night listing their slate of preferred candidates.
"It (the vote) had nothing to do with anything," Taylor said. "It had nothing to do with hunting. It had nothing to do with predator control. It had to do with who was on the slate written down by the (Anchorage) Second Amendment Task Force."
The group strongly supports gun rights.
On the other side, the Alaska Wildlife Alliance tried to rally supporters on Tuesday morning by sending out an e-mail alert.
The turnout of 530 voters was the biggest for an Anchorage advisory committee election in at least 10 years, according to Sherry Wright, the Southcentral advisory committee coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The 21-member Anchorage committee is one of 81 advisory committees across Alaska created in 1975 to "provide a local voice for the collection and expression of opinions and recommendations on matters relating to the management of fish and wildlife resources," according to Fish and Game's Web site. For the most part, the committees advise the Department of Fish and Game as well as the state fish and game boards. They can make an emergency fish or game closure, Wright said, adding that that has never happened.
Voters aren't required to live in Anchorage to participate in an Anchorage Fish and Game Advisory Committee election, Wright said. Essentially, anyone in Southcentral -- from Glennallen to Homer -- can vote for Anchorage committee members, and, similarly, Anchorage residents can vote in advisory committee elections in the Mat-Su or Kenai Peninsula.
Participants sign in when picking up a ballot, listing their name, phone number, address and interests. That information is volunteered, not checked against such IDs as a driver's license.
Eighty-seven percent of the vote came from people who listed their hometown as Anchorage, Eagle River or Chugiak.
"People are pretty passionate about their resources, but they don't always turn out for our election meeting," Wright said. "People just rallied their interest groups to come out. Before Monday, the most we've had for an election in the past 10 years was 250 people, which was a big turnout."
The voters -- some decked out in camouflage and orange hats -- filled the school district room to capacity. Others waited outside.
"If anybody at the meeting had known what they were voting for," Taylor said, "they would have voted for Marine Capt. Justin Meginnis. But nobody really knew."
At the meeting, Meginnis described himself as a newly retired Marine Corps captain, a lifelong Alaskan who grew up hunting and fishing here. In the Marines, Meginnis volunteered at the Camp Pendleton (Calif.) Game Board and Wildlife Refuge, where he worked on sustainability. He pulled in 158 votes -- about 4 percent and more than any other unsuccessful candidate.
Aaron Bloomquist, chairman of the advisory committee, said the vote and the lobbying that preceded it were simply democracy in action.
"It was a fantastic turnout, and it was nice to see that many people turn out," he said. "I come from the pro-hunting, pro-fishing sportsman side of the deal, and that's who carried the day."
The new board convenes next Tuesday at the Rabbit Creek Rifle Range.
"We have a lot of strong personalities," Bloomquist said. "I expect fireworks."
Elected to the advisory board 1) Phil Lincoln, 345 2) Frank Neumann, 335 3) Greg Bell, 331 4) Ron Jordan, 313 5) Robert Caywood, 312 6) Mark Campbell, 307 7) Hank Hodge, 306 8) Steve Flory, 176 Voters by community Collected at sign-in to pick up ballots • Anchorage - 395 • Eagle River - 40 • Chugiak - 28 • Wasilla - 41 • Palmer - 16 • Sutton - 3 • Willow - 1 • Big Lake - 2 • Chickaloon - 2 • Cooper Landing - 1 • Seward - 1