State and local chamber of commerce officials on Friday urged support for a ballot measure that imposes stricter rules in allowing citizens to put issues on an election ballot.
They say Ballot Measure 1 better protects against an attempt to move the capital, and it represents more citizens on issues in general. The opposition says the measure restricts the public's only constitutional recourse to pass laws that stall in the Legislature.
Wayne Stevens, president of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, came out in support of Ballot Measure 1 at Friday's Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon. The measure is a proposed constitutional amendment that would change how signatures must be gathered to put initiatives and referendum petitions on an election ballot.
"The chamber supports this ballot measure because its passage would prevent signatures for an initiative or referendum to come almost entirely from one city or area of the state," Stevens said in a prepared statement. "It would help ensure that ballot measures placed before the voters in any election will reflect true statewide support and not narrow special interests."
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Bill Williams, R-Saxman, requires that signatures come from three-fourths of the 40 House districts. Also, the number of signatures collected must be equal to at least 7 percent of voters who cast ballots in each of those districts in the previous general election.
Under current law, petitioners must collect at least one signature from a registered voter in two-thirds of state House districts - 27 of the 40 districts. Current law also calls for 10 percent of overall voters who cast ballots in the previous general election to sign an initiative or referendum proposal. The 10 percent requirement would remain under the proposed measure.
The current initiative process could bring a capital-move measure without full state representation, according to a Juneau Chamber of Commerce resolution passed Oct. 14.
"It gives a way for more people to become involved in the process," said Chris Wyatt, Juneau chamber executive director, on Friday. "It gives them a sense their vote matters."
Former House Rep. David Finkelstein, D-Anchorage, contends the measure restricts citizens' ability to prepare an initiative to support keeping the capital in Juneau.
"Measure 1 is really a big constitutional amendment," Finkelstein said. "Restricting access to the initiative process is a very bad idea."
To block a previous capital move, citizens started the FRANK initiative - Fiscally Responsible Alaskans Needing Knowledge. The initiative, enacted in 1994, required voters to know the costs of moving the capital or Legislature.
The current Legislature is not trying to move the capital, but redistricting over time has created more legislature seats in Southcentral Alaska, Finkelstein said. If a future Legislature pushes to move the capital to near Anchorage, citizens could use their constitutional rights under the current initiative process, he said.
Finkelstein was a supporter of keeping the capital in Juneau when he served in the state House from 1989 to 1986, he said.
Now a private consultant, Finkelstein has been a supporter of the initiative process in general, heading a movement in 1998 to allow medical marijuana use. This year he's pushing to legalize marijuana in Alaska, which is Ballot Measure 2 on Tuesday's election ballot.
Tara Sidor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.