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Wildlife protection advocates win ballot measures 1 and 6

Posted: Wednesday, November 08, 2000

Now that voters overwhelmingly have rejected attempts by the Legislature to pre-empt them on wildlife management issues, attention may turn to the mechanics of the initiative process.

Some supporters and opponents of two ballot measures dealing with wildlife issues say they may pursue changes in how initiative campaigns are conducted.

Voters soundly defeated Ballot Measure 1, a proposed constitutional amendment to ban any future initiatives on wildlife management. Unofficial returns showed 64 percent voting no.

In Juneau, the vote was even more emphatic: 10,325 against, and 2,667 in favor, or 79.4 percent to 20.6 percent.

For the second time, voters supported a ban on same-day land-and-shoot hunting of wolves. The ban was passed in 1996 but was later modified by the Legislature to allow airborne hunting in designated predator-control areas. By about 53 percent to 47 percent, voters approved Ballot Measure 6 and stripped that law from the books.

Again, Juneau voters provided a larger margin, 8,340 to repeal the law and 4,662 to leave it in place, for a spread of 64.1 percent to 35.9.

Joel Bennett of Juneau, a nature photographer and one of the co-sponsors of the land-and-shoot referendum, said the election results show that the Legislature has "overstepped what the public thinks is appropriate."

Democratic Sen. Kim Elton of Juneau agreed, saying legislators apparently think votes are legitimate to elect them but not to express sentiment on some issues.

On the other hand, after soundly rejecting the Legislature's positions on four ballot measures, voters "returned an almost identical Legislature," Elton said. "It's kind of a schizophrenic reaction the voters had."

Greg Petrich of Juneau, a consultant on land habitat, supported the constitutional ban on wildlife initiatives but said it may have gone too far.

The next step might be a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote on wildlife initiatives, he said. "I think that probably would have passed."

Petrich said he also wants to see a higher threshold for gathering signatures in rural areas for ballot initiatives that would disproportionately affect those residents. "I think that would help the so-called rural-urban divide."

The debate on Ballot Measures 1 and 6 focused on whether Outside groups were attempting to manipulate Alaskans through massive campaign expenditures. Groups favoring the constitutional amendment admitted accepting Outside money from hunting interests but accused the umbrella conservation groups opposing it of taking funds from animal rights activists on the sly. No such money trail was ever documented.

Jim Sykes of the nonprofit Alaska Public Interest Research Group, which opposed the constitutional amendment, said he would like to see whether Outside money could be banned from all state elections.

Sykes acknowledged that court rulings generally have found that giving money to political campaigns falls under the First Amendment.

"The right to spend money has been seen as the right to free speech," he said. "Paid speech should not have the same right as free speech. ... Courts say things all the time, but that doesn't necessarily create universal law."

Meanwhile, No on 1, the main group fighting the constitutional amendment, said that attention should turn to the longrunning subsistence debate and establishing a rural priority in the constitution. "Now the Legislature must let us vote on a subsistence amendment, as long demanded by urban and rural residents alike," said campaign chairman Vic Fischer of Anchorage in a news release.

Proponents of the constitutional amendment to ban wildlife initiatives said that urban residents have ignored the toll that predators take on game needed for subsistence in the Bush. But Bennett said most land-and-shoot hunting originates at urban airports, and those hunters are "not going out there to shoot wolves for the greater good of McGrath."

Bennett said Ballot Measure 6 may have been artificially close because a yes vote was needed to reject the law and a no vote was needed to keep it a likely point of confusion. "But I think if you can have a statewide vote twice, it makes it awfully hard for the legislators to say the public was misled."



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