As central Kenai Peninsula voters took to the polls for the primary election Tuesday, many said they were driven by the interest in having a say on the result of Ballot Measure No. 1.
A yes vote on the referendum would repeal Senate Bill 21, which was passed by lawmakers in 2013, replacing Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share or ACES oil tax structure and a no vote would let SB 21 stand.
Tuesday night, the measure was too close to call.
“(Measure No. 1) is really the only thing that matters today,” said Allen Thomas, who voted in Kenai.
Larry Davis said while some aspects of ACES needed to be tweaked, he was voting yes because he doesn’t “like to be cheated” and writing a “blank check” to the oil companies with SB 21 is not OK.
He said he thought the issue would likely increase voter turn out.
“The oil companies’ spending (on the campaign) is galvanizing people to vote against the oil companies,” he said.
Susan Smalley, who was manning the poll at the Kenai Senior Center, said the workers saw a steady flow of voters through the morning. She said the warm sunny day brought voters in via motorcycles and bicycles.
North Slope worker Peter Hughes voted no on No. 1 because he said Alaska needs to keep big oil and the jobs the producers bring to the state.
Crystal Lee, who lives in Nikiski and has many family and friends who work in the oil industry, said she voted no on Measure No. 1. She said she wants to see the industry grow and bring more jobs to Nikiski.
Former Cook Inlet and North Slope oilfield worker Ed Witbeck, said he voted yes on Measure No. 1.
“The oil companies … are raping people here,” he said. … “It’s a shame.”
He said ACES, which was passed in 2007, was a good tax structure but if SB 21 is repealed, he thinks lawmakers will rewrite ACES to give too much to oil companies.
Stan Welles of Sterling, a candidate for the Kenai Borough Assembly District 5 seat, said if citizens don’t participate in their own government they risk losing their freedoms. He said he voted no on Ballot Measure No. 1 because he believes it is foolish to go back to ACES. He said ACES served its purpose but times have changed.
“Nobody anticipated prices going where they did. The taxes are so high on companies trying to produce it’s not a cost effective decision to continue to invest,” Welles said. “Ninety percent of (Alaska’s) budget is based on (oil).”
The Sterling Community Center saw a consistent stream of voters come in right from the 7 a.m. opening and continuing throughout the morning, said Melissa Daugherty, an election volunteer. A lot of parents dropped off their kids for the first day of school at Sterling Elementary School and then stopped next door to cast a vote, she said.
Tasha Walden brought her son Urijah, 5, to Soldotna City Hall to teach him about voting. When her son asked her why people vote, she said it is our right as Americans to vote yes or no on important issues.
Sherril Miller, who voted at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, said Measure 1 is a non-partisan issue. She said she has read about the pros and cons of SB 21 and believe it deserves more time to see it’s full benefit to Alaska.
Anchorage resident, Ron Rannals works in Nikiski three days every week and made sure he could vote at the Nikiski Recreation Center. He said both sides of SB 21 have very good points.
Rannals said he stayed current on the debates about SB 21. He said the Vote Yes campaign did not provide an overwhelming argument that persuaded him to vote yes.
Betty Idleman, who was running the voting polls said the level of incoming voters has been steady. She said usually a good percentage of Nikiski’s registered voters turn out every year, however this year there is significantly more registered than in years past.
Idleman said she is interested to see if that percentage maintains while the numbers on the register increase.
Along with Measure 1, citizens had the choice to select candidates for governor, lt. governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. Representative, based on their party affiliation. Many voters said the Republican race for U.S. Senate intrigued them the most with candidates Dan Sullivan, Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell and Joe Miller.
Bert Wilson, of Soldotna, said he voted because two issues mattered to him. He voted no on Measure 1 and voted for Miller for U.S. Senate.
“I would like to see Miller get in,” he said. “He is a veteran and I like that.”
Sterling resident Verissa Walber said she voted for Dan Sullivan for U.S. Senate because he has the best interests for all Alaskans. She said he canceled his campaign tour to Palmer to help people involved in the car wreck on the Parks Highway on Monday.
“I am tired of the smear campaigns against him from people that don’t even live in Alaska,” she said. “People need to take the time to know and study a candidate.”
Walber, 65, said she has encouraged younger people to vote because with the threat to repeal SB 21, a lot is at stake with for Alaska’s future. She said she voted no on Measure 1.
“Vote with your conscience but research the candidates you’re voting for,” she said.
Soldotna resident Gary Shearer said he watched the U.S. Senate debate on TV Monday night and found it more amusing than insightful. He said he likes what Begich is doing for Alaska from the nation’s capital.
“I don’t like any of (the Republican candidates),” he said. “It’s important to elect the people that represent us and make sure they have our interests in mind.”
John Rysdyk, who voted at Soldotna City Hall, said he considers it a privilege to vote in every election. He said would prefer any of the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate to Begich.
“I don’t care who wins — they are all good guys with big hearts,” Rysdyk said. “I feel this country is going the wrong way and things need to change. I’m not politically savvy but I try to make decisions with common sense. My main concern is getting the country going in a different direction.”
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