State sued over initiative wording

Group says ballot summary could mislead voters on measure to move sessions out of Juneau

Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2001

The sponsors of a measure to move the legislative session to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough have filed a lawsuit against the state over ballot language summarizing the initiative.

A ballot summary approved by Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer implies that proponents of the measure are trying to conceal the cost of moving the Legislature from voters, said Uwe Kalenka of Alaskans for Efficient Government, a group spearheading the campaign.

If sponsors collect 29,000 signatures, the initiative and the ballot summary could go before voters in 2002.

"The language the lieutenant governor used is ambiguous and misleading to the voters. We need to have it clarified," Kalenka said.

However, a state attorney who helped write the summary defended the wording, saying it was taken almost verbatim from a related ballot summary that went before voters in 1994.

"We think we were perfectly fair and crafted neutral and impartial language that would inform the voters of the initiative," said attorney Sarah Felix of the state Department of Law.

At issue is a part of the measure that would amend the so-called FRANK initiative, a state law passed by voters in 1994. FRANK stands for Frustrated Alaskans Needing Knowledge.

The FRANK initiative says the state must have voter approval before it spends money to move the capital or the Legislature. The FRANK initiative also says a state-appointed commission must determine the cost of moving either body.

Kalenka's measure would delete the references to the Legislature in the FRANK initiative, meaning the state could spend money to move the session without prior approval by voters. The measure also would delete the requirement to put the session-move plan before a commission to determine the cost.

Kalenka objects to the way the state described that section of the measure in its summary, considered important because it appears on ballots.

The state summarized the section this way: "The bill would repeal the requirements that before the state can spend money to move the legislature, the voters must know the total costs as determined by a commission, and approve a bond issue for all bondable costs of the move."

Sponsors of the measure are challenging the phase "the voters must know the total costs" because it implies proponents want to keep the costs secret, according to attorney Ken Jacobus, who filed the lawsuit Monday in Anchorage Superior Court for Kalenka's group plus Robert Monson and Mark Chryson - two sponsors of the initiative petition.

"This false focus on trying to keep the costs unknown, rather than disposing of the requirement of an unnecessary commission, is not impartial and will harm the initiative in both the campaign and voting processes," Jacobus argued in court documents.

Jacobus wants the state to summarize the section this way: "The bill would repeal the requirements that, before the state can spend money to move the Legislature, a commission to determine the costs must be created and the voters must approve a bond issue for all bondable costs of the move."

But Felix, the state attorney, defended the current language, saying it came directly from the 1994 ballot summary of the FRANK initiative. That summary included this phrase: "This initiative would require that before the state can spend money to move the capital or legislature, the voters must know the total costs ..."

"We're not doing anything new or different here. We're just staying on the same track as we've been on from the very beginning," said Felix, adding one of the purposes of the FRANK initiative was to guarantee to voters their right to know the costs of moving the session in advance.

The lawsuit also alleged the lieutenant governor rejected language offered by initiative sponsors in favor of a summary proposed by known opponents of the legislative move.

Felix said the lieutenant governor considered input from Juneau residents Clark Gruening and John Hartle, who have fought past efforts to move the session. However, Ulmer usually weighs comments from opponents when preparing ballot summaries, Felix said.

"It's a matter of course that she consults with sponsors and opponents and people in between," she said. "Anyone who's interested is given the opportunity to have input into the public process."

Kathy Dye can be reached at

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