A last-minute scramble in Alaska

Slew of propositions, handful of tight races draw activists' focus

Posted: Tuesday, November 07, 2000

ANCHORAGE -- Candidates worked phones, volunteers braved the autumn chill to wave signs and political commercials clogged the airwaves Monday as campaigns scrambled for votes in tight races.

With Republican Gov. George Bush of Texas expected to win Alaska easily in the presidential race and veteran U.S. Rep. Don Young facing only token opposition, the action in Tuesday's election will be in races for the Legislature and campaigns for and against ballot measures.

"I've got a callous on my ear," joked state Rep. John Cowdery, an Anchorage Republican who says he's spent the last few days dialing for votes in his tough Senate race with Democrat Sarah Scanlan.

This election features six tough Senate races and about 15 close contests in the House. While the results are unlikely to break the Republican majority's hold on the Legislature, a big day for the Democrats could weaken the GOP's grip.

In the Senate, all of the contested seats are currently held by Republicans, so the GOP can only lose or maintain its current three-quarters majority in the 20-member body.

In the House, all 40 seats are on the ballot, but only about 15 have real contests as newcomers battle for open seats and a few incumbents face tough challengers.

Eleven House candidates have no opponent on the ballot, while more than a dozen other incumbents face only light opposition.

Among the most closely watched races is the Anchorage battle between Democrat Harry Crawford and longtime Republican Rep. Ramona Barnes, a former Speaker of the House who's been a force in the Legislature for years.

Meanwhile, voters face three constitutional amendments, two citizen initiatives and a citizen referendum on the ballot.

Measure 1 would ban initiatives dealing with wildlife. The constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature is backed by hunting activists and Alaska Native groups concerned with the influence of Outside animal-rights groups on game management.

Opponents say the amendment would strip voters of their right to vote on issues such as the 1996 initiative that banned land-and-shoot wolf hunting. Lawmakers relaxed that ban this year, prompting the sponsors of the initiative to back Measure 6, a referendum that would reverse the Legislature's action.

Measure 4 would cap property taxes at 1 percent of assessed values and limit assessment increases. Opponents of the cap have mounted a massive campaign against the measure, saying it would gut education, public safety and other local services.

Measure 5 -- to legalize marijuana and other hemp products -- has also drawn a spirited campaign. Proponents say they want to end a costly and ineffective war on pot users. Opponents warn that the measure would make pot more available to youngsters and express alarm about a provision that would release convicts imprisoned for marijuana offenses.

Under ballot Measure 2, judges would lose the power to alter constitutional amendments proposed by the Legislature, and lawmakers would regain power to propose broader changes to the Alaska Constitution.

The constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature traces its roots to the 1998 election season, when a landmark Alaska Supreme Court decision knocked one amendment off the ballot and changed the wording of another.

The lawmakers who proposed those amends contend the justices overstepped their authority. Opponents of the amendment -- including some of the framers of the constitution, call the measure a power grab by the Legislature.

If Measure 3 is approved, the governor's power to pack the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.'s board of trustees with his own appointees would shrink.

The constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature would also give lawmakers confirmation power over board members of some other state-owned corporations.

Sen. Rick Halford, who sponsored the amendment, said lawmakers need more oversight over corporations that handle billions of dollars of the state's money. Opponents, including Gov. Tony Knowles, argue that the current system works fine.

And finally, the normally bland judicial retention section of the ballot has shown some spice this year as a group of high-profile conservatives try to oust three judges for their rulings against laws limiting abortion and banning gay marriage.

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