During the recent effort to submit enough Alaskans’ petition signatures to put repeal of Gov. Sean Parnell’s oil giveaway on the ballot, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell allowed a political hired gun to remove citizens’ names from the petition through an unsecured electronic form.
While there are still some unanswered questions about the scandal, here’s what we know: In June, a political consultant named Art Hackney started a website called www.imadeamistake.org, which is associated with the anonymously funded organization, Alaska Resources Committee. In an interview with the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman for a July article, Hackney said he started the website after having a conversation with Treadwell. A reporter with the Alaska Dispatch interviewed Treadwell, who confirmed that he had given Hackney the go-ahead. Treadwell’s decision was controversial because it is a new and sweeping interpretation of state law that could have an impact on ballot referenda and initiatives beyond the current effort to repeal of Parnell’s oil giveaway.
The Hackney website is troubling because it is unsecured. One person could remove the names of other Alaskans from the petition, just by entering information into an online form. That kind of unsecured process is a threat to the integrity of the referendum process.
By law, the lieutenant governor has two jobs: Guard the state seal and oversee the Division of Elections, including referenda and initiatives. One would think that the lieutenant governor would consult with the state’s lawyer, the attorney general, before making new and sweeping interpretations of state law. Treadwell told Dispatch that he did check with the attorney general. When that article appeared, an individual who helped with the petition-gathering submitted a Public Records Act request to Treadwell, asking for documentation of the attorney general’s opinion.
This week, Treadwell responded to the request, but it turns out there was no documentation of an attorney general’s opinion. In fact, there is no evidence that Treadwell consulted with the attorney general at all. Remember, the Frontiersman article ran July 4, and the Hackney website was created on June 6. According to Hackney, the website “was born” after a conversation with Mead Treadwell. Yet according to Mead Treadwell’s own records release, the first documentation of any communication with the attorney general was July 10, the same day the Dispatch ran a story in which Treadwell confirmed his discussions about the website with Hackney. And the lieutenant governor’s communications on July 10 and 11 are redacted.
The timeline just doesn’t add up. If Treadwell consulted with the attorney general, then why is there no record of it? Did Treadwell make a spur-of-the-moment decision in a phone conversation or in-person meeting with Art Hackney? If so, he certainly wasn’t doing his job to run the Division of Elections impartially. If he gave Hackney the go-ahead in June or before July 4 and then exchanged a flurry of emails with the attorney general on July 10 -- when he realized there was a snooping journalist – then that’s even worse.
Alaska’s referendum and initiative process is a critical part of our democracy. We have used it to strike down a pay raise politicians gave themselves, and I think we will use it to repeal Parnell’s oil giveaway. So many signatures – more than 50,000 – were turned in that Art Hackney’s attempts to sabotage the process couldn’t stop us. But what seems to have been Treadwell’s impulsive and secretive management of this particular petition is very troubling. Alaskans should have confidence that if they sign a petition to put an issue on the ballot, their names will be counted.
Rod McCoy is a retired school teacher.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.