The Alaska Sea Party’s signature gathering campaign to force restoration of the state’s Coastal Management program has begun, with early efforts showing both the strength of the effort and the hurdles they’ll face.
“We’re feverishly gathering signatures,” said City and Borough of Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, who called the response so far “very heartening.”
While about 26,000 signatures are needed, sponsors hope for an additional 30 percent to make sure there are an adequate number of valid signatures.
The early campaign effort is showing both the strengths of the effort and the immense challenges it will have to overcome, especially to meet its self-imposed deadline of Jan. 17 to get the matter on this year’s ballot and considered by the Legislature this year.
The Legislature recently passed new requirements designed to make it tougher to get measures on the ballot, such as requiring signatures be gathered in 30 of the state’s 40 legislative districts.
The broad-based nature of the campaign was shown by the first petition booklet from outside Juneau to be returned to the Alaska Sea Party’s Juneau headquarters. It came from Unalakleet on the Bering Sea, and contained 157 signatures, despite there being less than 500 adults in the small town.
“It’s a coastal community, so in that respect it’s not surprising, but it’s also a very small community,” Botelho said.
The effort to restore a local voice in coastal management is driving by those in coastal communities, but in Alaska many of the places where they are seeking support are hard to reach.
Botelho said the petition booklets have sometimes taken longer than expected to reach their destinations, such as in Gakona in the Copper River Valley where they just arrived Thursday, despite being express mailed Dec. 23, 2011.
The Division of Elections provided the first batch of petition booklets on Dec. 21, and had provided them all by Dec. 23, he said.
They then had to be shipped to the volunteers for signature gathering to begin. At the same time, the campaign’s paid signature gatherers were at work in Anchorage where the concentration of people makes gathering easier.
“We’d hoped to be out of the blocks sooner, but given the shortness of time the mobilization has gone pretty well,” he said.
The reports from Anchorage show they already have 10,000 signatures, he said. Previous plans to do daily signature counts were abandoned in order to focus on gathering, he said.
The Alaska Sea Party is running a statewide campaign, he said, and not ignoring any part of the state.
“We are making a concerted effort in every house district in the state,” he said.
In Juneau, that’s relatively easy with its compact size and two districts. In House District 6, that’s a lot harder. The biggest community, Tok, is on the road system, but most other villages are accessible only by air, he said.
“There isn’t one central gathering spot,” he said, and reaching potential signers is difficult.
The biggest obstacle is the Interior generally, including Fairbanks and the surrounding area. Despite some ties to the Arctic and the university in Fairbanks, coastal issues are generally not highly visible there.
“The Interior is the most challenging for us,” he said.
The campaign to restore Coastal Management using the initiative process began following the Legislature’s failure to renew the program during last year’s legislative sessions.
Gov. Sean Parnell and some Republican leaders opposed giving local communities more say in coastal and offshore federal actions, fearing it would be used to stop development.
Representatives from coastal communities continued to press for strengthening their voices, and the stalemate continued through the regular session and two special sessions, before the program ended June 30.
For more information about the petition drive, contact the Alaska Sea Party at 957-4540 or at alaskacoastalmanagement.org
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.