A $1.5 million effort against a ballot measure to resurrect a coastal management program in Alaska paid off. With 98 percent of the vote counted in Tuesday's election, nearly two-thirds of voters said no to the initiative.
The fierce fight over Ballot Measure 2 was the most expensive campaign in this year's state primary election. More than $1.7 million was raised, all but about $200,000 by the opposition group "Vote No on 2." Oil companies, mining interests and other resource development and industry groups largely bankrolled the effort.
Voter turnout appeared low, Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said. She estimated turnout would end up at around 25 percent of registered voters, which is lower than the average for the past dozen years.
Some number of voters bypassed the mainly low-key legislative and congressional races entirely and only bubbled in their choices on ballot measures.
Coastal management backers weren't ready to concede. But they said the fundraising advantage held by Vote No was overwhelming.
Supporters said the coastal ballot measure would have reinstated a program that served Alaska well for more than 30 years under five different governors. Local communities would get a voice in projects that could affect their coasts, projects including docks and cabins, mines and oil fields.
Opponents said the ballot measure was poorly crafted and overly complex at 703 words that filled an entire page of Tuesday's ballot. They said it would create new bureaucracies that would slow down or stop projects, illustrating their point with television advertisements showing workers literally bound in red tape. They predicted lawsuits would result.
"We're not shutting out people in coastal communities from having a view and a voice," Willis Lyford, spokesman for Vote No, said Tuesday night outside of Election Central. "We're just saying that this law was the wrong way to make that happen and it was a bad law and we should try again and get the Legislature to reconsider this issue."
His side bombarded voters with multiple mailers and frequent ads on television and radio and in the newspaper. Supporters raised enough money for just a whisper of that: a single television ad in the campaign's last days, as well as radio ads and mailers to potential donors. Social media, though, took off for coastal management. One campaign that went viral, on Cook Inletkeeper's Facebook page, featured disrobed Alaskans holding "Vote for the Coast" signs.
"The fact we could take such little money, and even get to 40 percent (of the vote)," showed that many Alaskans do support the idea of coastal management, said Terzah Tippin Poe, co-chair of the Alaska Sea Party, the Juneau-based group behind the initiative. "I think that sends a clear signal to the Legislature, to the governor and to all of us that we need to deal with coastal management in the next legislative session."
The Alaska Miners Association gave about $160,000 in money and staff time to Vote No. Shell Oil Co., Exxon Mobil, and Conoco Phillips put in $150,000 each. BP contributed $100,000. Pebble Limited Partnership gave $75,000.
Only eight individuals gave money to Vote No, according to the other side. "And we had hundreds," said state Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau and one of the Sea Party leaders. The Alaska Conservation Foundation, Pebble mine prospect opponent Robert Gillam, and the North Slope Borough were the biggest contributors for the measure.
Mike Schwaiger biked Tuesday evening to his Midtown polling place at the Plumbers and Steamfitters Hall then to the First United Methodist Church downtown, where his girlfriend voted.
Ballot Measure 2 brought him to the polls, he said.
"I voted for it," Schwaiger, an attorney for the state, said. "We had a coastal management program for a long time. And it seems like a good idea to have one, where local people could be involved in the decisions that are affecting them."
At Fairview Recreation Center, voter Chelsea Toma had the opposite view and voted no, saying the ballot proposal was far different from the program in its last incarnation. She also didn't like the unknown elements, including the fact regulations still had to be written.
"They should have written it first, before putting it up for a vote," Toma, a bank teller, said.
The coastal management program was scaled back significantly -- some say gutted -- in 2003 under then-Gov. Frank Murkowski. It died in 2011 when state legislators couldn't agree on whether a smaller program was enough. Now Alaska is the only coastal state in the country without a coastal management program.
A group led by Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho gathered signatures to put the measure on the ballot.
Backers said the concerns were misguided or wrong and the election was being controlled by big money from Outside. Regulations are always written after laws are passed. Proposals wouldn't have been vetoed through the local reviews but might have been altered, supporters said. A dock might have been moved to protect salmon habitat, for instance. The lengthy ballot wording was necessary to tell voters what the initiative was all about, Poe said.
"Show them: We're open for business but not for sale," the narrator said on the lone Vote Yes TV ad.
Kerttula wasn't ready to concede defeat Tuesday night. But if the measure does fail, she said she will push for coastal management to be considered again by lawmakers.
House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said he expects a bill to be introduced, but whether the Legislature takes it up depends on the particulars.
Lyford, for Vote No, said the measure passed 40-0 by the House in 2011 would be a place to start.
"This is too complex a measure to be decided at the ballot box," Lyford said. " If we really want to do this in an open way, we should say to the Legislature, 'Go back and fix this, make it right.' "
Reporter Lisa Demer can be reached at email@example.com or 257-4390