Home Politics John Aronno: On Politics Please Party Responsibly: Pro-Marijuana Group Hits Opponents with Brilliant Press Release

Please Party Responsibly: Pro-Marijuana Group Hits Opponents with Brilliant Press Release

Photo credit: Kaelin, Creative Commons Licensing.
Photo credit: Kaelin, Creative Commons Licensing.

Marijuana makes strange politics. Especially when a ballot measure, just months away, could result in the legalization of its recreational use.

Despite pot being wildly popular among more liberal voters, only one Democratic candidate in Alaska — congressional hopeful Forrest Dunbar — has thus far come out in support of the ballot measure aimed at the end. Many others have voiced their opposition to recreational marijuana use, including gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott, and both lieutenant governor candidates, Hollis French and Bob Williams. Senator Begich told KRBD’s Emily Files that he’d let the voters decide.

Also opposed to Ballot Measure 2 — “An act to tax and regulate the production, sale, and use of marijuana” — is another notable name within Democratic circles. Deborah Williams served as the executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party from 2009 to 2011. Before that, she served as executive director of Alaska Conservation Foundation.

These days, Williams is helping the effort to vote down Ballot Measure 2, serving as deputy treasurer and a coordinating committee member of “Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No on 2.” She is also featured as one of the group’s top contributors, dropping a check for $1,000 in May.

Last night, she joined a strange convergence of marijuana legalization opponents at a fundraiser at the home of Williams. The event was hosted by two former governors, Republican Frank Murkowski and Democrat Bill Sheffield. Also planned in attendance, according to Amanda Coyne, were a “the president of the Anchorage Women’s Republican Club, a pastor at the Anchorage Baptist Temple, and a handful of legislators[.]”

Oh, to be a fly on that wall. With a helmet. And multiple escape routes in place.

Sheffield’s shindigs are notorious for their pomp and circumstance.

“Bill Sheffield throws a good fundraiser,” Anchorage Press columnist Ivan Moore opined in 2012. “He’s got a nice pad, lots of marble and questionable art. He spares no expense with the spread and the booze. And of course, like any former governor of the State of Alaska, he’s got a big, fat Rolodex. Anyone who’s anyone comes to Bill’s events.”

The Yes on 2 Campaign’s entire argument supporting the case for legal weed is the comparison of marijuana to alcohol. If one is legal, why is the other not?

Sheffield’s reputation for lavish events where the cup runneth over represented an ample opportunity to return to that comparison, which they couldn’t let (puff, puff) pass. Yesterday morning, the pro-marijuana camp sent out a tongue-in-cheek press release:

Backers of Measure 2, the ballot initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Alaska, are encouraging opponents to exercise caution when they attend a ‘No on 2’ party Tuesday night that is being hosted by a former governor with ties to Big Alcohol.

They are warning guests that the host might offer them alcohol, a substance that government studies and scientific research have concluded is more harmful than marijuana to the consumer and to society.

“As our opponents discuss why they think marijuana is too dangerous to make legal for adults, we hope they’ll explain why they have no problem with adults using a more harmful substance like alcohol,” said Chris Rempert, political director for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. “Especially if drinks are being served. Why wouldn’t they want their guests to know that alcohol is more addictive than marijuana, more damaging to the body, and more likely to contribute to violent behavior?”

The press release went on to chide Governor Murkowski’s senate campaigns for receiving contributions from “members of the alcohol industry,” including “at least $12,000 from the Nation Beer Wholesalers Association and $4,500 from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America.”

“We’re surprised Gov. Murkowski didn’t learn about the harms of prohibition from his friends in the alcohol industry,” Rempert went on to say in the release. “He should explain why he supports ‘legalized, commercialized, and industrialized’ alcohol, yet opposes doing the same with a less harmful substance.”

The joke was not well received by the group it poked fun at. Later in the afternoon, the Vote No on 2 group took to their Facebook page to respond.

We are not surprised at the lengths that proponents of commercialized marijuana will go to distract Alaskans; they mention alcohol whenever possible as a distraction, even to the level of insulting a 30-year public servant who is co-hosting one of our events. Alcohol was never on the menu for tonight’s event — just thoughtful discussion and grassroots support!

I opted not to attend the fundraiser. Mostly because I wasn’t invited. And a dry fundraiser doesn’t sound all that much fun. But surely attendees were treated to a steady flow of awkward conversations and campaign contributions.

And at the end of the day, the Yes on 2 camp wins the press release of the year award. And for that I thank them.


Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly asserted that the fundraiser was at Governor Sheffield’s house. It was actually held at the home of Deborah Williams, and has been edited accordingly.


  1. I have been to at least 100 political fundraisers in Alaska. I don’t recall a single one without alcohol being served. Usually cheap wine, but still alcohol. It might have happened, but it would be unusual not to have some intoxicating beverage available to help loosen wallets.

  2. John, Deborah Williams here. The event was at my house, not Governor Sheffield’s. You have been to my built-out-of-pocket house before for other fundraisers, and I was always pleased to have you there. I would be delighted to sit down and talk with you about Ballot Measure 2. It is really important to get the facts right on this, including correct locations, titles, and science. And while we anticipate lot of ad hominem attacks, I always thought you were more substantive than that. Feel free to contact me in the future to do so. And we really did have a lot of fun last night.

    • Ms. Williams, it’s one thing to ask for a correction, but it’s another thing entirely to attack a reporter for doing his job. The article was about a humorous press release from your opponents. Insinuating that Mr. Aronno is attacking your cause or deliberately misreporting on scientific facts is way out of line. I would have expected a more professional response from someone with your reputation and experience. How disappointing.

    • Yeah, I suppose a career politician’s political activities are kinda off limits.

      This comment is laughable, especially coming from someone (Deborah) who has long been an active and vocal critic of Murkowski’s…

  3. I apologize for the location mistake, and would be happy to sit down with you as well. I do object to the claim of ad hominem attacks and subsequent snipe. The article has been edited to reflect the accurate location.