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Initiative effort facing high-stakes gamble

Coastal Management advocates must decide by Tuesday whether to submit signatures

Posted: January 15, 2012 - 12:13am
LaRae and Loren Jones organize incoming voter signature booklets from across the state Friday in the Alaska Municipal League office for the citizens' ballot initiative to reactivate the Alaska Coastal Management program.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
LaRae and Loren Jones organize incoming voter signature booklets from across the state Friday in the Alaska Municipal League office for the citizens' ballot initiative to reactivate the Alaska Coastal Management program.

The Alaska Sea Party’s ballot initiative is close to the required 26,000 petition signatures needed to get a measure on the ballot restoring the state’s Coastal Management program, but now sponsors are facing a high-stakes decision.

“We only have one chance to do this,” said Bruce Botelho, Juneau’s mayor and chairman of the Alaska Sea Party.

If the group submit its signatures Tuesday morning before the Legislature convenes, the Legislature can either create its own program or the measure will go to the ballot for voters to decide whether to create it themselves.

If they don’t have an adequate number of signatures, or if they don’t come from the correct geographical areas, the time and effort will be wasted.

If they wait to gather more signatures for insurance, they won’t make the ballot until 2014.

“That’s why we have not made the final decision yet,” Botelho said, despite appearing to have enough signatures.

Because not all the signatures collected are going to be valid, petition professionals know they need extras for safety.

“The industry practice is to assume that as many as 30 percent of the signatures are invalid for one reason or another,” Botelho said.

The Alaska Sea Party is using volunteer gatherers in the traditionally difficult to reach outlying parts of the state, but has paid signature gatherers in the populous Railbelt.

The campaign is now analyzing its completed petitions, trying to determine how many signatures they actually have, and whether they’re from 30 of the 40 legislative districts in the state, as required by law.

All the Southeast districts, except for Juneau’s valley district, have enough signatures, with House District 4 very close.

Elsewhere in the state, the districts represented by Reps. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, Bill Thomas, R-Haines, Bob Herron, D-Bethel and Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue, have all met their quotas, with several others close.

The Railbelt districts have yet to be broken out, Botelho said, but there have been 16,300 signatures collected between Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, and 4,200 in Fairbanks.

Botelho said while the total number appears high enough, they doubt that they yet have enough valid signatures.

“We don’t think we have that margin for the error rate,” he said.

The final push for signatures, including compiling and validating those already obtained, means the goal is within reach, Botelho said.

“We have the momentum now for getting a coastal management program back in place,” he said.

State Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said they are tentatively expecting to get the signature booklets by 8 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The signer qualification process will then be handled at the division’s Absentee and Petition Office in Anchorage, where the division has 60 days to complete the review.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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