Democrats attack GOP laws through initiative

Posted: Thursday, August 07, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Democrats in the Legislature began the initiative process Wednesday in an attempt to short-circuit three laws passed by Majority Republicans.

Democrats submitted petitions to Lt. Gov. Loren Leman for two initiatives dealing with campaign finance limits, lobbying and congressional vacancies.

''They have a tendency to ignore us on the minority side so we are going to go straight to the people,'' said Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage.

One initiative would require Alaska to conduct a special election to replace a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. Such a provision is in place for the state's lone U.S. House of Representatives seat.

Previously, the governor had the power to appoint a replacement to a vacant U.S. Senate seat. Republicans in the Legislature changed the law last year to allow Gov. Frank Murkowski to chose his successor after he took office.

Democrats say Murkowski's choice of his daughter, Lisa Murkowski, to the U.S. Senate highlights the need for a change.

The second initiative would roll back limits on political contributions that were doubled by the Legislature this year. It also does away with relaxed lobbying regulations passed this year.

The Legislature approved a bill that raises the amount individuals can give to a campaign to $1,000. It also doubles the amount individuals can give to political parties, raising it from $5,000 to $10,000.

Lawmakers voted along party lines to approve the bill over the objection of minority Democrats.

Also approved along party lines was a bill to increase the amount of time someone can spend attempting to influence state government without registering as a lobbyist.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, increases the time from four hours in a 30-day period to 40 hours in the same time. The initiative seeks to require people to register as a lobbyist if they spend more than 10 hours in a 30-day period attempting to influence government.

Seekins was out of town and could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Under state law, a lobbyist is prohibited from making campaign donations to lawmakers outside the district in which they live.

Crawford complained that such a measure would allow many professional lobbyists to go unregistered.

''If you put the hours up to 40, even the professional lobbyists don't spend 40 hours actual lobbying time per month,'' Crawford said.

Senate President Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, said minority Democrats are injecting politics into the initiative process more commonly reserved for voters.

''Which should be something for the citizens and not for the political parties in the state of Alaska,'' Therriault said. ''I think they are looking for issues to create a buzz on.''

The petitions are sponsored by Crawford and Reps. Les Gara, D-Anchorage; Eric Croft, D-Anchorage; and David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks.

The petitions must be certified by the lieutenant governor before organizers can begin to gather the necessary signatures to get the initiatives on the 2004 ballot.

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