Students take on election issues

Candidates and initiatives debated at middle school

Posted: Tuesday, October 17, 2000

The widest ranging discussion yet held in Juneau on the upcoming state election was conducted Monday before an audience that can't vote.

About 100 students at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School heard the pros and cons of wildlife management issues and the marijuana initiative that will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot.

A speaker against the proposed statewide property-tax cap also took questions from students. And Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula and Republican challenger Mike Race made their pitches for the House seat that includes downtown, Douglas and Lemon Creek.

"You have done an awesome job," teacher Jamie Marks told students near the end of the two-hour question-and-answer session.

About half of the students were seventh- and eighth-graders who have been doing a special project on the election, registering voters at Fred Meyer and making posters to encourage voting.

The speakers Monday didn't soften or simplify their messages much for the young audience, although eighth-grader Ariel Rolfe said they could have done a better job explaining some terms.

A couple of the students said the information they got helped their parents decide how to vote.

Carl Rosier of the Alaska Outdoor Council debated wildlife issues with Sue Schrader of the Alaska Conservation Alliance and Joel Bennett of Alaskans for Wildlife.

Rosier supports Ballot Measure No. 1, a constitutional amendment to ban citizen initiatives on wildlife management, and opposes Ballot Measure No. 6, a referendum to repeal a law that permits some same-day land-and-shoot hunting of wolves.

A former state Fish and Game commissioner, Rosier said the initiative process has been "abused" in an attempt to make politics, rather than science, the basis for wildlife management. The public has been misled into thinking the wolf issue is about sportsmanship in hunting, but the real issue is predator control, he said.

But Schrader noted that since statehood there have been only three initiatives dealing with wildlife management, and two of them were rejected by voters. Bennett said by opening up land-and-shoot hunting to the public, the existing law encourages illegal activities, such as firing at wolves from airplanes.

Proponents for the statewide tax cap didn't send anyone to the middle school. They might have lost a few votes because of it.

Tax cap opponent Kevin Ritchie, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League, told students the proposed cap of 10 mills taxing property at 1 percent of value would cut school budgets by a third. In Juneau, Ritchie said, "To build a new high school, to a certain extent you'd have to lay off teachers to do it."

Eighth-graders Laura LeBlanc and Jamey Holloway said today that when their parents heard about what Ritchie said, they dropped their support for the tax cap.

A spirited discussion of Ballot Measure No. 5 to legalize marijuana pitted pro-pot advocate Mitch Mitchell of Anchorage against Sherrie Myers of Juneau, a former U.S. Forest Service officer who fought marijuana cultivation in national forests.

"First, don't believe anything she says," Mitchell said. "Second, don't believe anything I say."

He encouraged students to fact-check his statement that while legal drugs kill 650,000 people a year, marijuana has never killed anyone.

But Myers said it took many years to document the health effects of tobacco, and more information is needed on marijuana. Eighth-graders interviewed today said Mitchell didn't consider deaths from driving while high, and didn't make a case for legalizing recreational use of the drug.

In the legislative contest, Race emphasized that he should replace Kerttula because he would be in the Republican majority and could bring more state money to Juneau. But Kerttula lamented the increasing partisanship in the Legislature and touted her ability to work across party lines.

Kerttula and Race, along with Republican Rep. Bill Hudson, who is unopposed for re-election, will be part of a candidates' forum at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Juneau Senior Center. Candidates also will have tables set up at the Nugget Mall from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

No other election forums have been publicly announced. The Juneau chapter of the League of Women Voters will not be sponsoring any, according to board member Angela Salerno.

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