Alaska Notebook: 2014

May 22, 2013 

For a governor who came into office with a rep of no-drama as strong as Obama's, Sean Parnell could find himself in the middle of one fine circus of an election campaign next year.

And that's before we even talk about Parnell and Bill Walker going at it again, or who might run for governor on the Democratic side or who will challenge Mark Begich for his U.S. Senate seat.

Ballot issues alone may be enough to kick turnout up to respectable levels. Whether they make the ballot is far from settled, but if Alaskans do sign in the tens of thousands we could vote on:

  • A call to repeal the oil tax law just signed by the governor.
  • An initiative to boost the state minimum wage over two years from $7.75 to $9.75 an hour, with cost-of-living increases after that.
  • An initiative to legalize marijuana.
  • An initiative to require a vote of the Legislature to OK the Pebble gold and copper mine, in addition to required permits.

Unlike city elections, in which some of the bond issues and even ballot initiatives often are more housekeeping than earth-shaking, the potential 2014 lineup packs the heat of a left-right collision.

But for many Alaskans, it won't be that simple. That's because many Alaskans don't define themselves in terms of left and right, or Democrat and Republican. The undeclared and nonpartisan still make the majority of registered voters. Red state? Yes, but with a libertarian streak and a resistance not just to too much government control, but to too much corporate control.

What makes the ballot could make some of the agenda of the next legislative session as well. When the last minimum wage boost initiative in Alaska gathered something like 50,000 signatures, the GOP majority passed the initiative's increase, including an annual cost-of-living boost. The thinking was practical politics -- keep the initiative off the ballot and the Democratic turnout down. Later, those lawmakers stripped the cost-of-living provision out. Eventually, the Legislature settled on the old Alaska formula of a state minimum wage 50 cents higher than the federal wage.

Imagine the current majorities in the House and Senate voting for a minimum wage boost to $9.75 an hour. You could get better odds on a gas line by 2020.

-- Frank Gerjevic

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