The grassroots group Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers, well known for its past initiative efforts aimed at borough taxes, has now targeted lengthy stays in public office. The group filed applications for initiative petitions with the borough clerk’s office seeking to impose term limits on assembly and school board seats.
“We expect to begin collecting signatures to put term limits on this October’s municipal election ballot starting in early July,” said Mike McBride, an alternate sponsor of the initiatives.
ACT has submitted three separate applications, one for the Kenai Borough Assembly, one for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education, and a third that combines both. Borough Clerk Sherri Biggs has two weeks to approve or deny the applications. If accepted, she has another two weeks to prepare signature booklets.
In a 1992 advisory vote, borough voters demonstrated broad support for term limits for the assembly, school board and mayor. The assembly adopted term limits for the positions in 1993 and voters approved them that fall.
In a press release June 7, McBride noted that an interpretation of the ordinance language had given sitting lawmakers “a clean slate,” thus allowing them to seek at least two more consecutive three-year terms before being required to sit out an election.
In 1999, assembly members Drew Scalzi and Ron Drathman introduced an ordinance clarifying that the two-term restriction was to apply to full terms beginning after Jan. 1, 1994. That same ordinance repealed the two-term restriction applied to school board seats.
That same year, assembly member Pete Sprague, of Soldotna, sponsored a successful ordinance repealing term limits for the assembly. Sprague, when a member of the Soldotna City Council, had also sponsored an ordinance repealing term limits there.
With the passage of the 1999 ordinances, only the two-consecutive-term requirement for the mayor’s office was left intact. It remains in effect today.
Sprague justified his 1999 assembly ordinance by noting that a 1998 state ballot measure known as the Term Limit Pledge Act which passed statewide had not been supported in Soldotna Precincts 1 and 2, nor by peninsula voters in Alaska House Districts 7, 8 and 9 or in Tyonek (District 36).
“Today, I stand by what I said then,” Sprague said.
Limiting the terms of elected officials was a popular idea in the early 1990s at a time when the Republican Party was in its modern ascendancy and taking power in Congress. Many national lawmakers pledged not to serve more than two terms, though many later ignored those pledges. Whether the same fervor for sending incumbents packing through term limits rather than votes at the ballot box exists today may be debatable.
Nevertheless, ACT members say the 1999 assembly ordinances ignored the will of the voting public, and they intend to give the idea another chance.
“With this initiative written by members of the public, voters will finally prevail,” said the initiatives’ prime sponsor, Ruby Kime, of Ninilchik.
The initiatives, if approved by voters, would limit elected officials to two consecutive three-year terms. Unlike the assembly-written ordinances of the 1990s, the initiatives would count time already served by sitting members. Thus, members who had served two full terms by 2008 would be restricted from running again and find themselves out of office. That would apply currently to two-thirds of the current nine-member body.
Those who could be out would be Pete Sprague, of Soldotna, Paul Fischer, of Kasilof, Grace Merkes, of Sterling, Gary Superman, of Nikiski, Milli Martin, of Diamond Ridge, and Ron Long, of Seward, the current assembly president. Collectively, they embody a good portion of the assembly’s overall experience and institutional knowledge.
ACT members argue that “people have come out of the woodwork” when incumbents don’t run, and suggest qualified citizens would step up to the challenge. Conversely, ACT says, incumbents are rarely opposed.
Or are borough voters mostly satisfied with incumbents, and thus largely unenthusiastic about signing up to run for public office to replace them? That might be up to voters to decide.
If the petition applications are approved, ACT petitioners would have 90 days to acquire 1,503 signatures, qualified names equal to 15 percent of the total number of voters in the last municipal election.
Kime ACT would have to decide how to proceed if all three applications are approved. She said they were “testing the waters” in their neighborhoods trying to determine if one combined petition seeking term limits for both bodies would do, or if voters may be more inclined to impose limits on one body but not the other, thus necessitating two ballot initiatives.
Hal Spence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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