Vote 'yes' on first ballot measure, say 'no' to others

Posted: Sunday, October 24, 2004

When Alaskans go to the polls Nov. 2, not only will they choose a president and vice president, a U.S. senator and representative, and several legislators, but they also will decide four ballot measures.

Ballot Measure 1 would change the process for gathering signatures for an initiative or referendum petition by requiring signatures from more voting districts in the state. If the measure passes, signers must be from at least 30 of the 40 House districts, three more than now required. It also requires signatures from each of the 30 districts to equal at least 7 percent of the voters who voted in each of the districts in the last general election. Currently only one signer from a district is required. The measure does not change the total number of statewide signatures required.

Alaskans should vote "yes" on Ballot Measure 1. The current signature requirement consolidates power in the Anchorage and Mat-Su area where 23 House districts are located. Only signatures from four more districts are needed and those districts can be found within driving distance of the state's major population center.

Passage of Ballot Measure 1 would involve a broader cross section of Alaskans in proposing change through the initiative process. It doesn't make it harder for citizens to advance change through the process, but it does ensure more Alaskans are supportive of bringing the change before voters.

Ballot Measure 2 would remove civil and criminal penalties under state law for people 21 years of age and older who grow, use, sell or give away marijuana. It would allow marijuana to be regulated like alcohol and tobacco by state and local governments.

Alaskans should just say "no" to Ballot Measure 2. It flies in the face of the principles of healthy communities that most Alaskans support. There may be legitimate arguments about how prohibition against alcohol didn't work and how it doesn't work with marijuana either, but legal alcohol has its own set of social and health problems that have had a devastating effect on Alaska and Alaskans. This law has the potential to do the same.

While some adults may be able to use marijuana in the privacy of their own homes without it hurting others, Alaskans need to ask themselves if that personal freedom is in the best interest of public safety. Marijuana does have an effect on those who don't use it: just ask those in the medical and law enforcement communities. Those who treat people with substance abuse problems say almost all of them started with marijuana. Those in law enforcement see accidents, injuries and murders related to marijuana use. The case of an Anchorage teen charged last week with his stepmother's murder may be an example; the boy and his stepmother allegedly fought when she confronted him about his use of marijuana.

Ballot Measure 2 proposes bad public policy and should be defeated.

Unfortunately, Ballot Measure 3, which would prohibit bear baiting, has become a debate over which side represents the true Alaskan. There are well-respected hunters and Alaskans on both sides of this issue. Those who favor Ballot Measure 3 say bear baiting is a lazy, unethical and dangerous practice that flies in the face of the principles of fair chase. Opponents say it is a valuable management tool that also improves safety for hunters and bears alike. Baiting also is used by disabled hunters who cannot hike long distances and is popular with bow hunters who take animals at close range.

Two important questions need to be considered when deciding Ballot Measure 3: Is this ballot box biology that takes wildlife management out of the hands of the experts in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game? Does bear baiting conflict with other regulations that prohibit people feeding bears and other wildlife?

Because bait stations are carefully regulated and because Alaska law prohibits feeding bears and other wildlife in other circumstances, Ballot Measure 3 is unnecessary. While some people may be philosophically opposed to bear baiting, the management of the state's fish and game resources should be left in the hands of the professionals at the Department of Fish and Game, not decided by popular vote. A "no" vote is recommended on Ballot Measure 3.

Alaskans won't soon forget how U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski first came to that position, by appointment of her father. But Ballot Measure 4, which repeals state law that allows the governor to temporarily fill a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate until an election is held and certified, is not the cure. Opponents of the measure are right when they say Alaskans should not go without representation in the U.S. Senate until an election is held. The better answer is what was agreed upon this past legislative session: Let the governor appoint a qualified individual to fill the vacancy temporarily until a special election is held and the results certified. A "no" vote is recommended on Ballot Measure 4.

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