“Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
-- Abraham Lincoln
Want to be a Real Alaskan? Don’t vote in Tuesday’s election. Hell, don’t vote at all. It’s not quite as Real Alaskan as using a flamethrower to light a barbecue, but it’s close.
Here’s proof. Rock-solid, indisputable proof. Numerical proof.
Yeah, I know, nobody wants to read a bunch of numbers. Well, almost nobody. People who play the market or play the horses do. For the rest of you, tough luck. Here’s a dose of what my friend and fellow columnist Suzan Nightingale used to call “eat your peas” journalism.
• In the 1976 primary election, 29.4 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. In the general election, 61.7 percent voted.
• In the 1996 primary, 30.3 percent voted. In the general, 59.1 percent voted.
• In 2006, the numbers were 35 percent and 51.1 percent.
• And in the last election, 2012, they were 25.8 percent and 59.7 percent.
These numbers are, by any measure, awful. Terrible. The kind of numbers that would make Mister Rogers run the Neighborhood Trolley off the tracks. Make high school government teachers burn their books and jump out windows. Make... well, you get the picture.
Let’s focus on primaries. Why do two of every three Alaska voters skip them? The non-voters say they have good reasons: recreational fishing, commercial fishing and piling up good stories about snagging lines, broken reels and the one that got away; hiking and biking; hunting and berry picking; climbing and driving the ’bago to some place that gets good TV reception. And then there’s that old standby: They just don’t give a damn.
The results of all this “Not tonight, darling, I have a rifle to clean” excuse-making are primary elections that don’t mean much. In the House and Senate, for example, 12 legislators have no opponents at all. Most of the rest also go right through to the general election. In only a couple of races do people from the same party duke it out.
So the primary is usually a walk-through. That’s true, except for the rare case when it’s not.
An example? The 2006 Democratic primary between Carl Moses and Bryce Edgmon. It ended in a flat-footed tie. Everybody, including the candidates, figured a recount wouldn’t change things. So they flipped a coin. Edgmon won, went on to beat his Republican opponent in the general election and is still in the House.
Will this week’s primary election make any difference? My crystal ball is a little cloudy, so I can’t say. But there are two races that should: the initiative on abandoning the giveaway to the oil industry and the three-man Republican race for the U.S. Senate.
The giveaway started out as $2 billion in state funds to the oil companies each year. But after the initiative was certified, that number begin to jump around like a kangaroo on a hot plate. The idea was that if the number was lower, more people would vote to keep the giveaway in place. Particularly if the oil industry shills and their allies ponied up $8 million or so to buy the election. Can they? Well, money talks and we will soon see if it talks loud enough.
The U.S. Senate race has been entertaining so far. The Republicans have one guy who is slightly to the right of Sarah Palin. Another who spent lots of years holding Wally Hickel’s coat. And a third who just got off the airplane. I might have called them Huey, Dewey and Louie but I don’t want to get on the bad side of famous cartoon characters.
It’s easy to make fun of politics and politicians. I do it all the time. But I always vote. You should, too. And you should do more. Encourage more good candidates to run. Ask your friends and neighbors to inform themselves. Somehow, get more citizens to vote.
Otherwise, you only get what you deserve. And that isn’t much.
Mike Doogan is a former ADN columnist who served three terms in the Alaska House.