Empire editorial: Vote no to both

Posted: Monday, August 23, 2010

Alaska's voters will hit the polls Tuesday and, along with making selections for their candidates of choice in statewide and local races, will mark their ballots in two key ballot measures. Voters should reject these measures.

Ballot Measure No. 1 offers voters a fantastic title: "The Alaska Anti-Corruption Act." After all, who could stand for corruption?

Unfortunately, it offers Alaska's electorate little else, cutting at perceived problems in how public money is spent and allocated with a Claymore and not with the scalpel those issues require.

The proposed legislation does offer some limited exemptions for public officials, elected and otherwise, to communicate with the legislature and other public bodies. However, dispensations granted only to public officials, and then only to speak with legislators, their staffs or by specific request, do not allow the free flow of communication and ideas between those who serve the public interest but lie outside those tightly-drawn circles. The measure, if enacted, would all but bar cities from hiring paid lobbyists to advocate on their behalves. It can be argued lobbyists are a necessary evil, and one whose influence needs to be regulated and monitored to ensure it does not become undue. However, the operative word in the previous sentence is "necessary" since municipalities, and other organizations that would be snared by this measure, benefit from the professional communication and legislative advocacy skills those lobbyists provide.

Ballot Measure No. 1 would also prohibit legislators and their staffers from accepting employment from a holder of a government contract for two years after the conclusion of their public service. This provision seems to want to address situations like that of Bruce Weyhrauch, the former Juneau state representative who is now indicted on charges stemming from a federal investigation of his requesting work from oil-field services provider VECO Corp. while the legislature debated giving the oil industry billions in tax benefits. An admirable goal, to be sure, but the method requested of voters in pursuit of this goal would discourage able men and women from pursuing election to state office, or employment with one of those state officials, if those people chose not to become professional politicians. It would be difficult to blame someone otherwise well-qualified for public service, if that person knew his or her elective office would be disqualifying from a wide range of post-legislature opportunity for 730 days.

Ballot Measure No. 1 means well, but is loaded with unintended consequences, and should fail at the polls.

The second ballot measure is a much closer call, but, in the final analysis, it too should fail.

Ballot Measure No. 2 pits an important problem, that of teenage pregnancy, against a vital right, that of parents to raise their children how best they see fit. If passed, the measure would require girls to notify their parents 48 hours prior to obtaining an abortion. The language of the question spells out alternatives to this notification: a judicial bypass, or through written testimony of the abuse by both the minor and a relative, police officer or state investigator.

And, it is the narrowness of these exceptions that should mean the failure of this proposal. The judicial bypass requires a minor to either hope a judge finds her "sufficiently mature and well enough informed" to decide for herself on the termination of her unwanted pregnancy, or testify about abuse the minor suffered at the hands of the parent or guardian she is looking to avoid notifying. She must give a similar account of abuse to a relative or state official if she chooses not to seek a judicial bypass. In other words, a girl who is struggling with an unwanted pregnancy, and is suffering abuse at home (maybe even the awful damage of incestuous rape), would be forced to either deal with the consequences of revealing this pregnancy to an abuser, or relive the abuse in a written statement before she is psychologically ready to do so.

Alaska must deal with its teen pregnancy problem, which, according to a 2009 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is growing faster than in any other state in the nation. And parents are right to want to be part of the solution to their daughters' problems - emotional, medical or otherwise. However, the best path to achieve both of these aims is for the state to foster parental involvement and skills at the beginning of a child's life, not mandate potentially harmful communication after the parent-daughter relationship has crumbled.

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