Pot prop statement stirs ire of supporters

Backers angry that Leman's aide wrote opposition statement in voters pamphlet

Posted: Tuesday, October 19, 2004

ANCHORAGE - A statement in the state's Official Election Pamphlet opposing a proposition measure to legalize marijuana was written largely by Lt. Gov. Loren Leman's chief of staff.

The 300-word statement opposing the initiative was signed by Dr. Charles M. Herndon, but much of the text was written by Annette Kreitzer.

Ballot Measure 2 would make it legal under state law for people 21 and older to grow, use, sell or give away marijuana. It would also allow for state regulation and taxation of marijuana.

Proponents of the measure objected to Kreitzer's authorship, saying the lieutenant governor is supposed to remain neutral in election issues.

"It's outrageous conduct," initiative backer David Finkelstein said.

Even a staunch opponent of the initiative, former U.S. Attorney Wev Shea, said he was "totally disgusted" by the revelation. He said it could provide ammunition for marijuana advocates in a court case if they lose.

Kreitzer said she became involved in the marijuana statement to help out the Elections Division. The staff seemed stretched and overwhelmed this summer as it prepared to publish the Official Election Pamphlet, she said.

Kreitzer said she put together some notes on the issue that were forwarded to Herndon. She said it was aimed not at tipping the election but at satisfying a mandate in state law to present both sides of every ballot measure in the election pamphlet, which went out to 300,000 Alaska voters.

"In this case, Dr. Herndon had all the control," Kreitzer said. "He's the one who wanted to put his name on the line. I did a little research for him."

The wording similarity was revealed last week when the Anchorage Press, a weekly newspaper, published a copy of a "proposed draft statement" opposing the measure that Leman's office had e-mailed to Herndon last August.

Compared with the final statement that appears in the election pamphlet, they're nearly identical.

The pamphlet contains a summary of every ballot initiative, including a neutral statement plus "statements submitted" that advocate its approval or rejection.

Normally, opponents are easy to find, elections director Laura Glaiser said. But this summer, with the deadline looming to send the pamphlet to the printer in Salem, Ore., no one had submitted a statement opposing Ballot Measure 2. The lieutenant governor's office wanted someone with a medical background to write it, Kreitzer said.

But as the printing deadline grew closer and no one had been identified to write the marijuana statement, Kreitzer said, "I took it on myself" to begin work.

Kreitzer said she borrowed information from an FBI Web site, added facts about Alaska court decisions and initiative votes on marijuana, then submitted it to Leman for approval.

Leman's office has been challenged several times on his treatment of ballot initiatives, including the marijuana measure. Proponents of another ballot measure - one that would abolish appointments to vacant U.S. Senate seats - won a court order to have all the state's ballots reprinted after they objected to the summary of their initiative.

Finkelstein, a former legislator and participant in several ballot initiatives, said he doesn't know whether the lieutenant governor's office overstepped its legal authority in helping write the opposition statement to Ballot Measure 2.

"It's more a matter of ethics," he said. After working with three previous administrations, he added, "I never saw any lieutenant governor pull the kind of political tricks Leman is doing."

Kreitzer argued that the lieutenant governor's office simply wanted to give voters a balanced look at the issue and that it wasn't an ethical lapse. for the chief of staff to help out the elections division staff.

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