Group with ties to minority House Republicans applies for voter initiative to move session to Anchorage

Something might be going on in there.The Alaska State Capitol building as photographed in 2010. (Photo by Kimberly Vardeman/Creative Commons)

A group of Republicans from the road system have filed an application for a voter initiative to move the Legislature’s sessions to Anchorage earlier this month, arguing that existing law requiring voters be informed about the costs of moving the Legislature don’t apply.

The initiative application was filed by Anchorage resident David Bronson, Fairbanks resident Camille Carlson and Soldotna resident Leona Oberts, going largely unnoticed until it was raised to our attention this morning (Friday in the Sun will be out this afternoon). All are registered Republicans.

Bronson is the head of the group Equal Access Alaska, which was formed in April 2018 with the help of the House Minority Republicans’ press secretary Zachary Freeman (who was working on Republican campaigns at the time). The group’s stated purpose is to “support efforts to provide more government access to Alaskans.” The group’s treasurer is listed as Julie Tisdale, the assistant treasurer for the Alaska Republican Party.

The initiative with the Division of Elections needs to first be reviewed by Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer’s office before petition booklets can be issued and signatures can be gathered to get the initiative on the 2020 ballot. Meyer will have until April 5 to make a decision, 60 days after the application’s Feb. 4 filing date.

If approved, the group will have one year to collect 28,500 signatures from registered voters (10 percent of the turnout from the previous general election) from three-fourths of the House districts.

The initiative already raises a few legal and potentially constitutional problems.

Skirting legal hurdles

There’s the 1994 voter initiative that requires voters be informed of the bondable costs of relocating the capital or the Legislature. The current proposed initiative says, simply, that the former initiative doesn’t apply because “this initiative deals only with the location of meetings.”

It, however, would go on to amend the 1994 voter initiative to exempt the locations of the session from the act. They argue it doesn’t apply, but also amend the law so it wouldn’t apply.

The initiative doesn’t address the Alaska Constitution’s prohibition against voter initiatives making or repealing state spending or appropriations. That section of the constitution was used last year to strike key parts from the salmon habitat initiative last year.

Voter initiatives can also be preempted if the Alaska Legislature passes a similar measure before the election—which it did in 2018 to the government accountability initiative.

The big difference between the two paths is actions passed by the Legislature don’t have the two-year protection against repeal by the Legislature. The Legislature could delay the implementation of such a measure to come back and repeal it before it goes into effect, which is just what Republicans did with a 2002 minimum wage initiative.

Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, has filed legislation that would also move session to Juneau. It has been given three committee assignments, a lengthy path that effectively serves as a kiss of death.

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