Bill would do away with closed party primary

Posted: Sunday, January 16, 2011

JUNEAU — An Alaska lawmaker is seeking to do away with closed party primaries and plans to take his proposal directly to voters if the Legislature doesn’t sign off on it.

Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, said that for years, he has had people stop and “beg” him to revive an open primary system, in which voters can choose any candidate for legislative or executive branch offices regardless of party affiliation.

Currently, only registered Republican, nonpartisan or undeclared voters can take a ballot with Republican candidates. Any registered voter can take a ballot with Democratic, Libertarian or Independence party candidates.

Under the proposal, the top two vote getters in the primary — regardless of party — would advance to the general election. That means two Republicans could head to the general election, or two Democrats could.

Gruenberg said the existing system has “put the nominating process for Republicans in the hands of a small group” and led to the nomination of less centrist, more conservative candidates. He cites as a glaring example of this the selection of Joe Miller as the GOP nominee over incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who then mounted an outsider write-in bid to win back her job.

“This is something that we hope the Legislature will hear and will pass,” Gruenberg said. “And it’s going to be extremely popular, because people in Alaska want an open primary.”

But the proposal, among a spate of bills released Friday in advance of next week’s convening of the Legislature, faces opposition from the state Republican party.

Alaska GOP spokesman Casey Reynolds said the party hasn’t “heard an uprising from our members that something needs to be done.”

Reynolds said the only ones complaining are those who cannot vote in the GOP primary. And he said it’s “completely inappropriate” for Gruenberg or his party to have a say in how Republicans elect their candidates.

Republicans control the state House and have joined with Democrats as part of a bipartisan governing bloc in the Senate. Gov. Sean Parnell also is Republican.

Gruenberg said he intends to take the issue to voters, as an initiative, if the Legislature fails to advance the measure.

It is among several proposed election changes following the contentious U.S. Senate race. The results of that race, and Murkowski’s win, were held up for weeks by legal challenges over the state’s handling of the race and counting of write-in ballots for Murkowski.

Other bills introduced Friday included a proposal calling for ratification of an interstate compact to elect the president and vice president by national popular vote; a tax rebate for oil and gas companies hiring Alaska workers; a constitutional amendment that would turn some of the state’s savings into an endowment; and a measure allowing the use of deadly force anywhere a person “has a right to be.”

The latter bill, proposed by Wasilla Republican Rep. Mark Neuman, stalled during last year’s legislative session. Concerns were raised by the state Department of Law that it could encourage unnecessary violence.

The measure would allow a person to act in self-defense “in any place where the person has a right to be.” Currently, provisions on the issue are narrower, including allowing for someone to act in self-defense in their home or place of work.

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