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Elections a year away but rhetoric in full swing

Posted: July 31, 2013 - 12:04am

JUNEAU — The 2014 primary is still more than a year away but the campaign is in full swing, as evidenced by some of the rhetoric floating around.

This week, the state Democratic party accused Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who oversees state elections, of “collusion” with a political consultant to remove names from petitions to put Alaska’s new oil tax law up for a public vote. An assistant attorney general called the suggestion false.

The claim that the oil tax referendum will appear on the August primary ballot lit up the Internet on Monday, though the measure has yet to be certified. Supporters of the oil tax law, including Gov. Sean Parnell, in recent weeks have taken to calling it the “More Alaska Production Act,” a title that wasn’t used during the legislative debate when the measure was generally referred to by its bill number, SB21.

That’s just oil taxes.

In the last few weeks, the campaign manager for the Republican Treadwell’s U.S. Senate bid, in releasing Treadwell’s fundraising numbers for the last quarter, mistakenly said Treadwell had raised more than $120,000 between June 18, when he officially launched his campaign, and June 30 — though some of the money dated to May. Adam Jones later corrected himself when asked about it by a reporter.

And then there are claims on both sides related to former Gov. Sarah Palin.

The 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate told a radio host she had “considered” running for the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Mark Begich. There’s no other indication yet she will enter the race but that hasn’t stopped Begich and a national tea party group that has tried to coax her into the race from invoking her name in some of their fundraising appeals.

“Alaska is home to some of the most welcoming families in the country, and I am proud to call myself their Senator,” Begich said in a recent appeal. “Some politicians (Sarah Palin, for example) might try to use Alaska as a springboard for a different office. Not me.”

“Our petition drive to get Sarah Palin in the United States Senate is working! BUT she still hasn’t made a final commitment to run and that’s why I need you to respond to this request right away,” said an email blast from the Tea Party Leadership Fund’s Todd Cefaratti.

Pollster Marc Hellenthal chalks up the early tone to campaigns positioning themselves for money and votes.

Carl Shepro, a professor emeritus in political science at the University of Alaska Anchorage, sees it as an extension of a national trend in which more money is going into elections and the rhetoric — the “propaganda that’s being spewed” — is amped up.

The highest-profile and most contentious races are shaping up to be the U.S. Senate race and oil tax referendum. Begich is a first-term Democrat and Republicans have seen his seat as important to their efforts to take control of the Senate. The proposed referendum seeks to continue the debate on the best oil tax policy for Alaska.

Republicans took control of the state Senate after last fall’s elections, giving the GOP control of the House, Senate and governor’s office. Parnell, after several failed attempts, was able to get a tax cut passed. While Parnell and others see the bill as a means to getting more oil in the pipeline, others see it as a give-away to oil companies. A citizens’ petition was launched to overturn the bill.

On Monday, Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said the referendum had met the legal threshold for signatures but the review was not yet complete. The proposal still must be certified by Treadwell and Fenumiai said the law allows a 30-day window for any protests of his decision.

The state Democratic party took issue with Treadwell allowing people to request electronically that their names be removed from the petition. Consultant Art Hackney had set up a website to allow people to ask that their names be removed, and the party, in a release, accused the two of “collusion.”

Party spokesman Zack Fields said by collusion, he meant the decision-making process surrounding how requests could be submitted should have been more transparent. He said it’s appropriate for any faction in a campaign to ask for guidance when a law is ambiguous. He said the law allowing for anyone to remove their name from a petition through only “written notice” is ambiguous. But he said any decision about what constitutes written notice should have been publicly released.

Libby Bakalar, an assistant attorney general, said in an email that Treadwell’s office received three written requests to withdraw signatures from the referendum petition, and none came from a third-party website.

She said the Division of Elections planned to review “any and all written requests to withdraw signatures — regardless of the form in which the requests arrived — within the context of its overall signature review.”

“The division has made no decisions at this time as to whether any specific signature was validly withdrawn within the meaning of the statute,” she said. “Any claims to the contrary — and certainly any claims of collusion — are false.”

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