Home Politics Community Politics The AO-37 Repeal and the Politics of Delay, Delay, Delay

The AO-37 Repeal and the Politics of Delay, Delay, Delay


One has to figure that, at some point on September 16, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan and city attorney Dennis Wheeler had a sit-down.
It had to be somber in tone; weighted with generous portions of frowns, sighs, and belabored grunts. I’d imagine there was more than one hands-on-hips-and-look-glib moment shared between the executive and the legal arm of his administration.
That morning, supporters of a ballot measure aimed at repealing Ordinance 37 – a controversial anti-labor law – announced they had gathered over three times the amount of signatures needed to land their referendum on a ballot. And, somewhere, a city hall intern was sent to fetch antacids.
The controversial law severely restricts collective bargaining rights for city workers, removes their right to strike, opens up bids to private contractors, and puts the assembly in charge of resolving labor contract disputes while saddling public sector unions with the bulk of the costs.
Sullivan has been unwavering on two points regarding the law: he absolutely supports it and would very much like everyone to stop objecting to it. Testimony was shut down despite dozens of workers still wishing to testify in objection. When the repeal effort launched, Sullivan and Wheeler rejected it twice, citing that it was an administrative change not subject to democratic appeal. Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth told them they were wrong.
And on that cold, windy, winter-is-coming Tuesday in mid-September, after all the attempts to “just move on already,” the repeal effort became legit. The fate of the ordinance would be decided by a vote of the people, who do not appear to share the mayor’s fondness for it. The only question left was how they wanted to handle it: put the issue on a special election ballot, the next general election ballot, or suspend the ordinance indefinitely.
They decided to create more options.
Wheeler, again, appealed the court’s decision to allow the referendum – this time to the Alaska Supreme Court.
And at last week’s assembly meeting, an ordinance was introduced seeking to postpone the referendum vote until 2015. It further requested that it be placed on the statewide general election ballot in November, instead of the municipal elections.
There are several problems with this notion.
The ordinance expressed a fear that the Assembly might not be able to run a “well-run, fair, and accurate election” in time for the April municipal elections; that they could not “hire and train election workers, create ballots, prepare election materials and conduct early, absentee and election day voting” in time for the election.
Regardless of whether the referendum is on the ballot, there is still a municipal election scheduled for April. It’s a fairly large one, with a majority of the body up for reelection. The city charter tasks the assembly with running the municipal elections. Whether or not the AO37 repeal is on the ballot has nothing to do with the hiring, training, and supervision that needs to occur anyway.
Elections are important. This ordinance effectively admits that the Assembly and the Sullivan administration cannot perform a basic function of the offices they were elected to.
The attempt to delay also cites bad timing, and suggests we should postpone the vote because the state’s bungled redistricting is still being litigated by the Alaska Supreme Court. The final remaining lawsuit being reviewed by the courts, however, deals with interior districts and the Mat-Su Valley. Only one district in Anchorage could possibly be impacted, minimally. This is a thin argument. No perceivable changes warrant the prescribed delay.
Finally, the new ordinance requests that the repeal be placed on the statewide election ballot, instead of April’s municipal election ballot. When asked for comment, the bill’s co-sponsor, Assemblywoman Jennifer Johnston, explained that this option was added to provide flexibility, saying: “The clerk has contacted the state as to the cost and responsibility of the Municipality if this item was placed on a statewide ballot. While it does not seem as expensive or time consuming as having a special election, it is more expensive than placing it on a municipal ballot.”
Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones used a bit stronger language, informing assembly members that, while “the Clerk’s Office would follow whatever direction the assembly chooses, given the response from the state, the Clerk’s Office opposes holding the referendum election,” and listed myriad reasons.
The municipality can’t piggy-back a municipal matter on a statewide ballot. Anchorage would have to run a single-issue municipal election on top of a statewide election – during midterms.
The clerk’s office would still be in charge of printing separate ballots (at a cost between $55,000-65,000). Voters would be forced to use two different voting machines. Municipal and statewide absentee and questioned ballots would have to be kept separate, creating all sorts of security risks. Two Municipal election workers, in addition to state election workers, would need to be stationed at every voting precinct (a position usually shared, given the different dates of municipal and statewide elections).
This isn’t a case about finding the right porridge. Why should we look to create new expenses if we don’t have to?
Adding the city-wide referendum to the November election is rife with complications, costs, and uncertainty. And the only reason to support it is political, not practical. Sullivan doesn’t want to jeopardize the current composition of the Assembly, which is favorable to his administration.
Putting the AO-37 repeal on the April ballot makes East Anchorage Assemblyman Adam Trombley – and, thus, the mayor’s majority – highly vulnerable. On the other hand, he can’t justify the expense (estimated at $250,000) of a special election to his conservative base. Especially while he’s campaigning for lieutenant governor.
Every one of the 21,136 Anchorage residents who signed the petition to put Ordinance 37 on a ballot deserves a vote. Everyone else in the municipality, whether or not they agree with the ordinance, does to. And, unless someone comes up with a legitimate argument for delay that doesn’t stink of political motivation, that vote should follow the prescription offered by current law. We shouldn’t postpone democracy at the discretion of the executive; republican governance does not serve at his pleasure.
We deserve better than that.