A citizen's initiative is perhaps one of the best and worst aspects of our Alaska government.
The best is that it represents true democracy and is a popular alternative as special interests increase their hold over our legislators. Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to initiatives as well. First, they are an inefficient way to govern. Second, public debate is in an election format and is not as thorough as formal hearings. And third, we do not want to end up like California where ballots are clogged with hundreds of initiatives.
However, not even successful initiatives can guarantee durable results. Alaska legislators have been prone to reverse successful initiatives by simply passing counter-legislation even though the risk of a voter backlash increases each time the majority is foiled.
Notwithstanding this potential fate, Alaska voters once again will decide the outcome of four ballot measures in the upcoming Aug. 26 primary election. All the ballot measures are pretty straightforward. One measure already has been passed twice, so perhaps the third time is the charm.
Most important is the Ballot Measure 3: Clean Elections. Given the ever-expanding scandals on corruption and non-disclosure, I should not have to say more. But Ballot Measure 3 threatens the status quo.
Not surprisingly, opponents have already tried to rename and hijack the initiative by providing their "solutions," which would provide even less oversight than what we have now. They also have tried to discredit Clean Elections as unworkable. The truth is the model is working elsewhere - not perfectly but a good start.
As with any major reform we can expect a bumpy ride. But without a doubt, Ballot Measure 3 is magnitudes better than what we have now.
Another worthy initiative is Ballot Measure 4: clean water. Despite all the propaganda and doomsday predictions, Ballot Measure 4 is simply an insurance policy. It prohibits mega-mines from degrading our world class fisheries and existing water quality. The proposed Pebble Mine project would build one of the largest tailings dam in the world. So it is reasonable to craft custom regulations to deal with such mega-projects.
Furthermore, I am always skeptical when special interest groups overreach. For example, the assertion that the initiative is a stealth statewide anti-mining movement is false and has been discredited by our Alaska Supreme Court. It is a simple question. If you cannot protect our existing fisheries, water quality, subsistence uses and jobs - then don't move forward until you can.
Ballot Measure 2 is "let's quit shooting wolves (and bears) from aircraft." This practice already has been prohibited twice before in citizen initiatives, so the voters have been quite clear on this issue. Unfortunately former Gov. Frank Murkowski resurrected this practice early into his reign as Father Knows Best.
While the debate on the biological soundness of predator control is legitimate, no one has ever presented any cost/benefit analysis for this program. It is safe to assume the costs of the aerial wolf hunts are ridiculously high and unacceptable to most - especially if long-term benefits are debatable. On a darker note, some of us also know there is a cadre of practitioners who really love this bloodsport - regardless of what it does to our public image.
Alaskans are famous for not giving a rip about what non-Alaskans think. You know those uniformed, urbanized folk who have just gotten lucky in foiling our efforts to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - for a mere 30 years. If you think bridges to nowhere make us look bad, try trotting out the running down of wildlife with aircraft (and then sprinkle in some shooting of wolf pups in their dens). That should really polish up our image with the rest of America. But who cares? Authentic Alaskans know that it is just a scientific management tool applied without emotion.
Lastly, there is Ballot Measure 1. It creates a state gambling commission. This commission would have broad powers to say when and where gambling occurs in Alaska. Sounds OK until you understand that quorum would be just three members of a seven-member appointed commission. This means that just three Alaskans alone could approve or prohibit major gambling ventures in Alaska. For emphasis I repeat, these gambling czars would not be elected but selected under the influence of God knows who. The potential for another scandal is just too great for me.
So in short, it is a big thumbs up for ballot measures 2, 3 and 4 - and a big thumbs down for Ballot Measure 1.
* Joe Mehrkens is a resident of Juneau and a board member of Alaska Public Research Interest Group (AKPRIG). AKPRIG endorses Ballot Measure 3 but has not taken a position on the other three measures.