Election 2007: Another fine mess


Posted: Friday, October 12, 2007

Want to get people more disgusted with the political system than they already are?

Let those in the Kenai Peninsula Borough tell you how. It goes something like this:

First, get a group of malcontents together. Their purpose: to nay-say anything the borough government proposes.

Second, let those malcontents get an initiative or two on the ballot. Never mind that the outcome of one or both initiatives may be unconstitutional. At the least, it's clear the outcome could potentially conflict with the outcome of who's elected to office.

Three, watch a perfect political storm create chaos. The initiatives on the ballot cancel out people's choices for seats on the assembly.

Fourth, wait for someone anyone to sue so the whole mess can be straightened out.

The losers?

The voters, of course.

Of course, those same voters also could be blamed for creating the chaos in the first place. After all, they're the ones who voted in retroactive term limits, but also overwhelming voted for incumbents Gary Superman of Nikiski, Pete Sprague of Soldotna and Paul Fischer of Kasilof.

But not exactly, since the voters in the districts served by Superman and Sprague defeated term limits, which would indicate they really want Superman and Sprague back in office.

Doesn't it?

No matter what happens next, voters will be disenfranchised because it can't be both ways. If Superman, Sprague and Fischer are allowed to take their oath of office, there will be a battle because the initiative approving retroactive term limits passed with about 53.7 percent of the vote boroughwide. If the three, in the end, are barred from taking their oath of office because of term limits, there's a battle because they won in their districts.

Should one vote trump another? Where's Solomon when you need him?

A judge will have to play that role, and the sooner, the better. Until there's a definitive decision, voters in assembly districts 3, 4 and 7 have representation only until Nov. 8. The assembly this week did not declare those seats vacant, in effect buying a little time for a court to decide.

But whose responsibility is it to bring the matter to court? The three incumbents hurt by the term limits? The assembly? The borough administration? The voters? The Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers, which supported the initiatives?

In a perfect world, it would be the voters, since they are most harmed by the quagmire created by the Oct. 2 vote.

In a less than perfect world, the borough administration and the assembly should step up to the plate and initiate some court action because this isn't a matter that simply affects three incumbents. The uncertainty left by the election hurts borough government as a whole. It's in the public's best interest to have a quick decision, so the borough should take the lead to make sure the public's interest is protected. There's just one problem: Who should the borough sue?

On the school board, a whole different story is unfolding in the wake of the borough attorney's ruling that term limits can't be imposed on the school board by the borough, only the state can do that.

Hindsight, of course, is 20-20, but it would have been great to have that ruling in hand before the initiative ever got on the ballot.

Which raises a whole host of other questions, including: How much research should the borough be required to do before an initiative is placed on the ballot? Could this whole mess have been avoided in the first place? If so, how?

It's clear the Oct. 2 election has raised more questions than answers. As the situation is sorted out, however, here are some random thoughts about what will be a less-than-perfect outcome:

* Incumbents elected Oct. 2 should be allowed to finish out their terms. At the very least, they should be allowed to serve until the next local election.

* While the initiative process should not be made more difficult, a $100 filing fee to get the initiative process started is not unreasonable even more so if the money is refunded if a petition application is approved.

* Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that there are still situations in which there is no pat answer. Everyone wants to do the right thing here, but it's unclear what the right thing is. Nobody is trying to thwart the will of the voters, they just don't know what to do.

Which all brings home this final point: However it happens, a court needs to act as quickly as possible, so voters aren't left without representation on the assembly. Anything the borough and assembly can do to help speed the process should be done, for the sake of protecting voters' interests.

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