The two sides of Anchorage's labor law referendum campaign are trading barbs over the design and placement of campaign signs.
Last week, the "Yes on 1" campaign, which is working to uphold the law that made changes to collective bargaining for municipal employees, rolled out signs with the slogans "Lower Taxes, Fair Wages, Safer City," as well as the phrase "Keep AO-37."
The red, black and yellow signs may look familiar, and here's why: In terms of design, the "yes" signs look virtually identical to those produced by the "No on 1" campaign, which have been a ubiquitous sight around Anchorage for weeks -- a similarity representatives were quick to point out.
"It is intentional voter confusion," said Gerard Asselin, president of the Anchorage Coalition of Unions and an Anchorage Police Department sergeant.
A follow-up text from Asselin summarized the No on 1 campaign's response to the signs, which accused their opponents of trickery.
"It's not surprising that the 'Yes on Prop One' campaign has decided to mimic every detail of the 'No on Prop One' campaign signs," Asselin wrote. "From the the very beginning, AO-37 has been deceptive and unfair. It was written in secret and introduced just 5 minutes before the filing deadline. Public testimony was ended with hundreds still waiting to speak about it. Mayor Sullivan did his best to keep people from voting on it, despite the wishes of over 22,000 Anchorage voters. And after it had been repealed twice by the Anchorage Assembly, Mayor Sullivan vetoed it again.
"So we aren't surprised at all that the supporters of AO-37 are choosing to try to confuse Anchorage voters by copying our signs. They know that the legislation is bad, and the process that created it was even worse, and now they are trying to trick Anchorage residents again."
Asked Saturday morning by phone if the sign was deliberately made to look similar, Chris Birch, the chair of the "Yes on 1" campaign committee, said: "Absolutely."
"When you're being outspent 30 to one ... the city employee unions have amassed nearly a million dollars, basically to silence the voice of the public," Birch said. "The challenge is trying to get your message out."
The "Yes" campaign has raised $27,100 so far, Birch said. Campaign finance records show that at least $680,000 has been raised by unions fighting the law.
In a competitive election season, the "Yes" campaign can't yet afford the heightened costs of TV or radio advertising, Birch said.
"Right now, we just need to rely on the good judgment of the public, and messaging to get out on social media and signs," Birch said.
Asselin and other union representatives also accused the "Yes" campaign of illegally placing signs in the right of way areas at major Anchorage intersections. Birch countered by saying he had seen at least one "No on 1" sign that did not appear to be placed legally on a state road -- though he added that if signs placed by his or other campaigns were indeed improperly placed on state roads, there's no legal path to requiring the signs be removed before Alaskans go to the polls.
He pointed out that, while signs can be moved immediately if they are found to pose a danger to the traveling public, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is generally required to give a business or property owner a 30-day notice to request removal of an illegally placed sign.
Even if a campaign received notice on Monday, the date by which the signs would have to be moved would be in mid-November, well past Election Day.
"Within 30 days of the campaign, you haven't got time to give somebody a written notice and have them remedy it," Birch said.