Alaska is a state with priorities as diverse and thoughtful as its residents. It is also a state incredibly responsive to the environment that impacts our lives and livelihoods. When it comes to what Alaskans believe in climate change, it shouldn’t be surprising that we are collectively troubled. More than half of Alaskans believe that the president, Congress, local officials, corporations and citizens should be doing more to address global warming. Additionally, a majority of Alaskans support a whole slate of climate-forward policies, including regulating CO2 as a pollutant, requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax and funding research into renewable energy sources. So, why are we — currently living in the fastest-warming state in the nation — allowing local politicians to continue to kick the can down the road? Why aren’t the priorities of Alaskans aligned with the priorities championed by our elected leaders?
One of the simplest answers to this question is that our state electoral system in its current iteration — with a semi-closed partisan primary preceding the general election — does not match our population. In Alaska, more than 60% of voters are unaffiliated with a political party. An independent electorate requires an independent electoral process, not one controlled by the leadership of a handful of partisans.
Ballot Measure 2 make three critical reinforcements to our elections infrastructure. It would illuminate dark money’s influence by requiring any group that receives over half its funding from outside Alaska to provide a disclaimer on all public communications. It also implements an open primary system. Currently you have to choose one of two partisan ballots or have a declared party affiliation to vote in the primaries -- effectively disenfranchising more than 60% of Alaskans during the primary process. Removing that many people when choosing candidates for office results in a badly skewed field. Finally, Ballot Measure 2 invokes ranked-choice voting, ensuring that any primary candidate elected has received over 50% of the vote. These three reforms will support candidates who are genuinely for Alaska in all its uniqueness and with all its concerns.
Given our state’s intricacies, it should never be taken for granted that our interests will be properly represented by outside interests or national parties. Ballot Measure 2 would take back local control, allowing communities to elevate those who know them best on the issues they care about most.
I’m not advocating for the abolition of political parties in Alaska or nationally, nor am I a passive observer when it comes to partisan politics. I’ve been a registered member of the Alaska Republican Party since the day I turned 18. I’ve worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee and various other conservative organizations. However, I am also a fierce advocate for bipartisan climate change solutions.
Alaska is a state like no other, in terms of our population, natural beauty and the speed with which climate change is affecting the land. The Alaska government’s inaction on this pressing issue is reflective of the state’s long-standing electoral troubles. The reforms sought by Ballot Measure 2 are in service of these solutions. For the future of accountable politics and the good of our shared environment, I encourage you to vote yes on Ballot Measure 2 this November.
Kiera O’Brien is the founder and president of Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends. She is also a Public Voices Fellow of the OpEd Project and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. She was born and raised in Ketchikan.
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