“Well, hello everybody. Thanks for coming down for the turning in of the petitions!” Organizer Pat Lavin said to an elated crowd gathered in Ship Creek on Saturday. The audience was stacked with volunteers who had spent the better part of their summer gathering signatures to put SB21 – the oil tax cut passed by the legislature last session – on the 2014 primary ballot. “We didn’t know if we could get to 30, we didn’t know if we would get to 40 – we got down close here to the end and it turns out we have over 50,000!”
Around 51,000 Alaskans put their names on the record within the brief three-month time period, according to the event’s organizers. Just over 30,000 were required. Saturday’s group had gathered to turn them in. “And we just have to make sure,” Alaska founding father Vic Fischer addressed the crowd, “that we have a strong, strong campaign to get the rest of Alaskans in addition to these 50,000 to vote ‘yes’ next August and repeal SB21.”
Present alongside Fischer were a cadre of political heavyweights: former Anchorage Mayor Jack Roderick, former Hickel aide Malcolm Roberts, former Green Party Chairman Jim Sykes, former state representative Harry Crawford, former Republican state representative Ray Metcalf, current Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker, Democratic state representatives Andy Josephson and Chris Tuck, and Democratic state senator Bill Wielechowski.
Roderick stressed the importance of the effort:
We need to have the political muscle to patrol our future development. It can’t be in the boardroom of major oil companies…. We’re not against oil. Oil is our future. We want to cooperate with the industry; we want to cooperate with the companies. But we don’t want them telling us what we’re going to do. And unfortunately, I think we have a leader now who doesn’t think that way. And… this is a nonpartisan effort, as you realize I hope. So, I will make a partisan remark. We need a new governor.
Jim Sykes followed up with some foreshadowing. Although the group had much to cheer on this particular day, the reality is that they were applauding the completion of step one at the bottom of a very long, steep, and winding staircase.
“You know, the industry now knows that we have a margin of votes to the point that they can’t disqualify this petition. They know that. And they’re on the phone to their ad agencies today.”
The crowd laughed. As one of the former South Central campaign managers for last year’s Coastal Zone Management ballot initiative, I didn’t. Money wins elections, and I’d wager none of us would like to compare our checking account balance to BP’s coffers.
Bill Wielechowski recognized the coming struggle to overcome special interest money that would prefer keeping Parnell’s oil industry tax break, but made it clear that defeat was not an option.
I’m a little tired today, because I went dip-netting last night. But that’s tied into what we’re doing. You know why? Because people like Jack Roderick and Vic Fischer and many others of you fought so that we could have freedom to fish. So that we could have fish for our families, for Alaskans, so that we could subsist on the fish. They fought large, outside corporations so that we could do that. This is the second battle for statehood, because we are in the exact same situation.
Wielechowski concluded his remarks by joining the crowd in a chant, repeating “It’s our oil,” before a car drove up behind the crowd containing the boxes upon boxes of blue signature booklets. Volunteers grabbed the boxes out of the truck and lined up behind Cindy Roberts, carrying the Alaska state flag, and filed into the building to drop them off.