Last week I was talking with a friend and co-worker about the optimistic prospects of a Colorado style cannabis legalization initiative passing in August. He had just spent some time in Juneau, the capitol of Alaska where he was raised, and said his lobbyist brother told him that the initiatives would be moved from the primary elections in August to the general elections in November.
I had believed that it was a done deal that the legalization of weed and other ballot initiatives were set to be on the ballot when primaries happen on August 19. I was wrong. Today it was reported that the initiatives will be voted up or down on the general election ballot in November.
Besides legal weed, the other initiatives affected by a provision of the state constitution are one to raise the minimum wage and one to protect salmon fisheries in Bristol Bay by requiring legislative approval for large mining operations.
While I don't claim to be super pundit, and many of you likely understand electoral processes better than I do, I see this a positive development for the initiatives and perhaps more importantly, for efforts to keep Senator Mark Begich in office for another 6 years.
But I am a little bit baffled by what my friend's lobbyist brother told him: that the right had dragged out the legislative session in part to drive the initiatives into the fall (the constitution states that legislative session must end 120 days prior to initiatives being on a ballot). To me it makes no sense for opponents of the initiatives to think that pushing them to the general helps them defeat the initiatives. The republican primary for their senate candidate should help turnout on their side, while Mark Begich is going to be the dem nominee. The left, generally, supports all three initiatives, and isn't particularly reliable to turnout in off year elections, let alone off year primary elections in the middle of summer. More tuned in dems and left leaning voters will be more motivated to show up in November to help send Begich back to the Senate than they would be to show up for a meaningless primary. So I see this as promising news for Begich and the initiatives.
The logical, if not necessarily correct, explanation I have heard is that opponents of legal weed, a higher minimum wage, and protection of fish habitat and the associated fishing industry feel that some younger Alaskans who either attend university outside of the state or who mainly work seasonally in the summer and travel in the winter won't bother to engage in the election via absentee ballot. There potentially could be some validity in this view, but my counter to it is that most young voters fired up enough to go to a primary election in August will also be organized enough to be on top of the absentee situation. I suppose opponents may also fear that seasonal workers who don't necessarily live here, but could register to vote if they wanted to, won't have that opportunity if the election is in November. Again, some potential validity, but in my anecdotal experience, seasonal workers aren't often registering to vote in Alaska.
The legal weed also looks promising because polls are showing support north of 50
Alaskans back legalizing marijuana for recreational use, with 55 percent of voters in support and 39 percent opposed. Among voters under age 30, legalization is even more popular, with 72 percent in support and 26 percent opposed. And it looks like they'll get a chance to vote in AugustI don't know what the chances are for the minimum wage increase passing, but the Pebble Mine initiative transcends traditional left-right dynamics in that even some on the right appreciate and respect the potential to spoil one of the most productive salmon fisheries on the planet. Some right wing hacks are even working on campaigns to support the initiative, and the late Senator Ted Stevens, while not as crazy as the current crop of GOP legislators, also supported protecting the Bristol Bay fishery.
So I welcome today's news as benefitting our chances for passing all three initiatives, and for keeping Mark Begich in the Senate (even if he is excruciatingly wrong on oil related issues). Am I missing something?
Oh, and speaking of oil issues, perhaps the referendum (not initiative) to repeal the recently passed reduction of taxes on oil companies is the real reason to move these initiatives to November? The vote to repeal the reduction in oil taxes is still happening on August 19. Now the lefty voters, who don't have to choose their Senate candidate in the primaries, will be less likely to show up and overturn the pure idiocy that is the reduction of oil taxes.
Shall we end this with some irony? The oil taxes that were reduced had been increased while the Wicked Witch of Wasilla (Gov Half Term) was in office. So proponents of repealing the oil tax cuts are supporting a return to increased levels set by a bill passed while Half Term was in office, and that she championed. I'm not saying it was her idea or anything, but then all those arrests of republicans legislators, lobbyists and oil company execs happened, and it was easy for her to jump on the bandwagon. Bizarre, isn't it? ….How that happened is a story for another day.