Ballot Measure 1 may be failing statewide, but in Sitka and the rest of central Southeast Alaska, it was a clear winner on Tuesday. Seventy-five percent of Sitka voters backed the measure, with 1315 “yes” votes to just 448 “no” votes.
The referendum sought to repeal the tax breaks for oil and gas companies championed by Gov. Sean Parnell and passed by the state legislature in 2013. Statewide, the “Yes on 1” campaign is running behind, 48% to 52%, trailing by more than 6,000 votes. More than 14,000 absentee and early ballots have yet to be counted.
But central Southeast Alaska bucked the statewide trend.
The margin was narrower in other communities in House District 35, which includes Sitka and Petersburg, but voters still favored repeal by two-to-one.
Across the district, 67-percent, or 2,353 people voted “yes.” A little more than 32-percent, or 1,133 people, voted “no.”
In addition to Sitka and Petersburg, the district includes Kupreanof, Port Alexander, Pelican and Elfin Cove, Tenakee Springs, Kake, Angoon, Hoonah and most Prince of Wales Island communities.
The “yes” votes carried every precinct in the district.
For state representative, both Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka and Republican Steven Samuelson of Petersburg were unchallenged in the primary. Kreiss-Tomkins received 1,535 district-wide. That compares with 1,126 for Samuelson.
Samuelson said Wednesday he was thankful for the people who turned out to vote.
“[It's] real important to get out there and vote and I’m glad so many did,” he said. “I wish voter turnout was a little bit better still I appreciate it very much.”
About three-quarters of local voters stayed home Tuesday. Turnout across the district was about 26-percent. That’s lower than the statewide average, which hovered around 32-percent.
Samuelson thought voters sent a message Tuesday about the state’s oil tax structure. Ballot Measure 1 sought to repeal Senate Bill 21, the current oil tax law, and replace it with the previous oil tax regime, ACES, or Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share. ACES was passed by the legislature in 2007 and championed by then-Governor Sarah Palin.
“With the ACES program, it’s failed and as far as Senate Bill 21, I think the people have clearly spoken that both need to be worked on,” Samuelson said. “People aren’t happy. They think that Senate Bill 21’s flawed and ACES is not doing what it’s supposed to do either. So this district, I think it’s important to have somebody that’s going to be in the majority in the House, that will be able to express this district’s feelings towards where we need to go.”
Samuelson said he’ll be ramping up his campaigning with the primary behind him. He’ll face incumbent Kreiss-Tomkins in the general election this November. Kreiss-Tomkins campaigned for a “yes” vote on ballot measure one.
“A margin like this, especially with a broad statewide electorate, it may not portend for the best result for repealing this tax cut unfortunately,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “But it’s a really strong message that, you know, you drop 15-million dollars, the most expensive statewide initiative campaign in Alaska history, and people still think independently and critically and vote for the public interest. And to me that’s reassuring.”
The “Vote No on 1” campaign spent about $15-million on advertising, compared with about $600,000 spent by supporters of the referendum.
Despite the outcome of the ballot measure, Kreiss-Tomkins was optimistic about the results of Tuesday’s primary voting around Alaska.
“There were some very close legislative primary races across the state,” he said. “And with an eye towards building a bipartisan coalition, I thought there were some promising results there and I hope that bodes well for trying to resurrect a bipartisan and coalition-oriented majority in the legislature.”
In other results from the district Tuesday, Democratic candidate for governor Byron Mallott outpaced incumbent governor Sean Parnell in House District 35. Mallott had 1,245 votes, while Parnell had 1,090. Independent Bill Walker, who is also running for Governor, was not on the primary ballot.
In the heated Republican Senate primary, Joe Miller ran just two percentage points behind front-runner Dan Sullivan in the district, taking 36-percent to Sullivan’s 38-percent. Statewide, Miller took 32-percent to Sullivan’s 40-percent.
And in Sitka, Democrat Forrest Dunbar outpaced Republican incumbent Don Young in the voting for U.S. Representative. Dunbar received 629 votes to Young’s 486.
All election results are unofficial, for now. The state Division of Elections must still count absentee ballots. That count will not start until a week after the election.