Could court be next?

Voters re-elect incumbents, approve of term limits

Posted: Wednesday, October 03, 2007

All three Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly incumbents were solidly re-elected Tuesday, but the concurrent success of Proposition 2 establishing term limits on assembly seats has the perfect political and legal storm looming on the horizon.

Longtime assemblymen Gary Superman, of Nikiski, Pete Sprague, of Soldotna, and Paul Fischer, of Kasilof were favored by voters. District 3's Superman faced no opponent, but Sprague defeated Ed Oberts 381 to 174 for the District 4 seat, while Fischer topped Bill Holt in District 7, by a tally of 417 to 366.

In the only race that did not involve an incumbent, Bill Smith easily beat Leonard Wells in the race for Homer's District 8 seat, a one-year term to fill out the remainder of Assemblywoman Deb Germano's term. Germano has resigned effective the day her successor is sworn in to office.

Whether the incumbents will be permitted to begin their new terms later this month is a question that seems destined for court.

By an unofficial margin of better than 500 votes, the electorate supported Proposition 2, which limits assembly members to just two consecutive terms. The proposition counts terms already served, counts as full terms even truncated terms such as those served while filling out vacated seats or created by reapportionment, and, most importantly, goes into effect immediately.

The prime sponsors of the citizen initiatives that placed Proposition 2, and its also successful companion, Proposition 3, establishing term limits for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education seats, are members of the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers.

In a press release late Tuesday, ACT members Ruby Denison, of Ninilchik, and Mike McBride, of Nikiski, said voters had taken a small step in regaining control of their borough government.

"The voters said business as usual is no longer acceptable," the press release said. "They want term limits, new people and new ideas."

What many voiced concern over has come to pass all three incumbents have been re-elected by their district constituents, but the boroughwide vote on term limits would appear to void those district decisions.

"This is like the perfect storm, or the worst-case scenario," said Sprague Tuesday night. "Or maybe it's the best-case scenario" because the issue of term limits may finally be adjudicated by the Alaska Supreme Court, he said.

Final numbers were still not in from all the precincts of Superman's district, but it appears the "no" votes outnumbered the "yes" votes on the term-limit prop by a small margin, something that was important to Superman.

"That's a voting-rights question right there. I anticipate some kind of legal move, either from the borough or from myself," Superman said. "This still needs to be ruled on."

In District 7, Fischer said he would wait and see what happens but leave it up to prime sponsors and supporters of Proposition 2, members of ACT to make the next move.

"I think the assembly should seat the three who won, and that's it," he said. "If somebody doesn't like it, let them sue the borough. It's in their ballpark. I'm not happy this got this far to begin with."

Fischer's opponent, Holt, was an opponent of the term-limit proposition. He said he learned a lot during the campaign and actually found he enjoyed the process more than he anticipated.

"If I knew then what I know now, I'd have done a better job of campaigning," he said. "I want to congratulate Paul."

In Soldotna, Ed Oberts also expressed optimism in defeat.

"It was a good campaign. I'll be interested to see how this term-limits issue will work out," he said.

Oberts said he would be willing to put his name forward if it ultimately comes down to the assembly having to appoint someone to fill Sprague's seat.

Holt also said he would serve if asked.

ACT launched the two initiative campaigns last summer, saying they wanted to re-establish term limits that had been put in place in the early 1990s by the electorate, but overturned by assembly action in 1999.

Now that the propositions have passed, ACT recommended the winning incumbents on the assembly and school board step aside and come back in three years the propositions' required waiting period and run again.

"If the assembly or individual members choose to take legal action they will likely lose," ACT said. "By taking legal action the election process will be substantially harmed."

ACT members declined comment Tuesday beyond the text of the written statement.

Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net.



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