Alex DeMarban

Habitat initiative defeated by nearly 2-1 margin

A ballot measure designed to boost protections for salmon and other fish failed by a large margin Election Night amid an onslaught of heavy opposition spending by powerful oil and mining interests. With 98 percent of precincts reporting by 1:30 a.m. Nov. 7, Ballot Measure 1 received 145,997 votes against, and 83,479 votes in favor, a 64-to-36 margin. Supporters conceded defeat early in the night. “We had an uphill battle the entire way,” said Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, a measure sponsor and former state fisheries biologist, noting the overwhelming spending by the opposition. “But this effort was unprecedented and we will continue to move this forward.” Commonly called Stand for Salmon, the controversial measure generated more than $12 million in spending. At least $10.2 million of that was spent by industry-led opposition group Stand for Alaska — Vote No on One. Opponents had contended the measure would create project delays and costs, halting some development. “The results of this election signal that Alaska remains open to responsible resource development going forward,” said Kati Capozzi, Stand for Alaska campaign manager. More than 100 supporters of the measure, gathered at 49th State Brewing Co. in Anchorage on Election Night, took early indications of defeat quietly in stride as they appeared on a big screen. Some said win or lose, they’d been successful in starting a statewide discussion about the need for stronger protections for salmon habitat. “Salmon now have a seat at the table, they’re no longer just on the platter,” said Mike Wood, another measure sponsor and a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman. Capozzi, speaking by phone from the Captain Cook Hotel Quarter Deck, where Stand for Alaska had gathered, said the large amount of money spent by the group was needed to help educate Alaskans about the negative effects the measure would have on jobs and the economy. “We just had to explain what it really meant,” Capozzi said. “Alaskans are really smart and they got it.” The measure was launched more than a year ago as major mining projects such as the Pebble prospect in Southwest Alaska advanced, and conservation groups, fishing interests and others grew concerned over state laws they considered weak and outdated. The third sponsor was Gayla Hoseth, an Alaska Native from the Bristol Bay region. More than 40,000 Alaskans signed the measure. The measure would have mandated public comment periods for major projects and added other regulatory steps before the Alaska Department of Fish and Game could permit activity affecting anadromous fish habitat. Such habitat includes streams or other waters where ocean-dwelling fish such as salmon return to spawn. Supporters saw the measure as a way to restrict, if not stop, projects like Pebble. It also would have added regulatory steps for smaller activities, and for existing mines, oilfields and other development seeking permit renewals. Quinn-Davidson said her group is ready to work with Alaska Native corporations and state lawmakers to introduce a bill that increases habitat protections for salmon and other fish. “It’s clear Alaskans want stronger protections for salmon,” she said. “We just disagree about the approach.” Alaska’s major oil producers ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP, along with mining corporations such as Donlin Gold, Kinross Fort Knox, Teck Alaska and Pebble Limited, led funding for Stand for Alaska at $1 million each. A total of about 550 organizations around the state formed the Stand for Alaska coalition. Yes for Salmon and other pro-measure groups spent at least $2.3 million. The fight over Stand for Salmon shared some similarities with the $15.3 million battle over Alaska oil taxes in 2014. Voters then faced ballot language designed to repeal and replace a new oil-production tax. Industry, led primarily by the state’s major oil producers, heavily outspent the pro-measure forces then, too. Voters rejected that measure, though by a much slimmer margin.

52nd AFN convention seeks innovative solutions

The Alaska Federation of Natives convention in mid-October will bring together more than 6,000 people from across the state for a gathering that will boost the Anchorage economy with more $6 million. The event has been held 52 straight years, long enough that some forget a fight for traditional lands started it all. Many view the gathering, which begins Oct. 18, as a cultural spectacle for Native art and dancing, a reunion for friends and family. “And there’s always politics,” said Willie Hensley, who helped form the Native organization and has attended every meeting since the first in 1966. At the time, Emil Notti, who became the first AFN president, was concerned about threats to long-occupied Native lands as the young state of Alaska selected acreage from federal inventories. Homesteaders and hunters were laying claims to cultural sites. Notti wrote the letter that called Alaska Natives to Anchorage to discuss the problem. Word spread. “Mostly in the Tundra Times (newspaper),” said Notti, now 85. “There were no Bush phones.” “All we had was mail,” said Hensley. More than 400 Alaska Natives showed up over three days, representing 17 organizations, AFN says. Their demands led to a 1971 congressional law, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, providing 44 million acres and nearly $1 billion to a unique system of Native-owned corporations. A lot has changed since then. A lot hasn’t. AFN now represents about 140,000 Alaska Natives statewide, plus 200 regional and village Native corporations and 186 tribal governments. Its convention remains a political catalyst, where culturally diverse groups find unity, then promote social change. The bonds built there are critical, says Julie Kitka, the nonprofit’s president. “I love seeing people I haven’t seen since last year,” she said. “That is bar none my favorite part.” Billed by AFN as the nation’s “largest representative yearly gathering” of indigenous people, the event still runs for three days. More than 4,000 AFN delegates arrive from gobs of villages. The event is webcast to 70 nations. It features a massive Native arts bazaar with more than 150 artists, a health fair, awards ceremonies, a legal clinic, plus two nights of popular Quyana, showcasing traditional village dance groups in crowd-filled halls. The convention has grown so much that it now anchors other events. Starting off the week, on Oct. 15, First Alaskans Institute hosts the three-day Elders and Youth Conference, where leaders are born and traditions instilled. More than 1,000 participants will attend. AFN and the National Congress of American Indians are also hosting a tribal conference, to discuss views on tribal issues, on Wednesday, Oct. 17. It all makes for a busy week, capped by the convention, where election-year politics will add to the drama. A governor candidate forum Oct. 19 will pit incumbent Bill Walker against his challengers, former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy and former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich. For Alaska’s seat in the U.S. House, Rep. Don Young will meet challenger Alyse Galvin. Convention speakers will include: • Keynote Valerie Davidson, a Yup’ik who leads the state’s health department and has supported Medicaid expansion and improved health care access for Natives and other Alaskans. • Tara Sweeney, assistant secretary at Interior for Indian affairs and former AFN co-chair. • Joe Balash, assistant secretary at Interior for Land and Management. • Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. • Terrence John O’Shaughnessy, a U.S. Air Force four-star general, head of the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command. • Mark Trahant, editor of Indian Country Today and former Atwood Chair of Journalism at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Kitka said AFN, working with the broader Native community, has achieved many successes over the decades. Alaska Native organizations now run hospitals and clinics statewide, improving access to health care. Modern improvements have come to villages, including Internet, power plants, water and sewer systems. Over the decades, AFN has worked with Congress to address social and economic disparities, and helped protect the rights of Native subsistence hunters and fishermen, Kitka said. The best accomplishment has been the education and development of young Natives ready to run the corporate, social and health sectors their elders built, Kitka said. “That’s important because we’re dealing with a lot of change that will hit us on many fronts in Alaska,” she said. The convention theme this year, “Innovation in the Past, Present and Future,” speaks to the continuing need to tackle technological, economic and social disruptions while staying grounded in family and tradition, she said. AFN plans to focus future energy on finding ways to combat rising health care costs and improving educational opportunities, she said. Another key area will be addressing changing climate, working with state and federal agencies and others to find ways to improve erosion-threatened roads, runways and buildings in numerous villages. One idea involves creating an Arctic Development Bank, like the poverty-fighting World Bank that provides affordable loans and other funds for projects. “This last Congress, you saw major efforts for tax reform, but never saw a big infrastructure bill,” Kitka said. “We’ll see how we can get attention on infrastructure needs up here.” Building ties with the U.S. military will also be part of the group’s agenda. AFN’s policy plans for 2019 will be shaped by dozens of resolutions from delegates, after a vote on Oct. 20, the conference’s final day. Both Notti and Hensley said they’re amazed AFN has grown so large over the years. But there’s more to accomplish. Both cited the need for increased jobs and job training in rural communities to combat poverty and other social woes. Money is required these days, and climate change is altering animal populations, raising questions about access to wild food in the future. “If you can’t make a living on subsistence, you have to have a substitute,” Notti said. For those who can’t make this year’s convention, the event will be webcast live, said Jeff Silverman, a communications officer with AFN. You can find the event at the website. It will also be available on 360 North, Alaska Rural Communications Service or ARCS, and GCI channels in some communities. “It’s in every village and every city,” Silverman said.

APOC hears complaint against initiative backers

The industry-led group fighting the Yes for Salmon ballot initiative told Alaska campaign regulators in a hearing Sept. 25 that their opponent is benefiting from more “dark money” than it originally thought. Also, the initiative campaign director, Ryan Schryver, said in a hearing that his paychecks come from the Washington, D.C.-based New Venture Fund. But Schryver said he reports to an Alaska organization, SalmonState, that receives financial assistance from New Venture. Stand for Alaska-Vote No on One brought the complaint Sept. 20. The group asserts that Yes for Salmon-Vote Yes on One, as well as Stand for Salmon, and The Alaska Center, have violated multiple disclosure laws. The Alaska Public Offices Commission said it will issue a ruling on Oct. 3. Members of the pro-initiative groups maintained during the hearing they have worked closely with APOC staff to avoid any reporting errors. “We value transparency,” Schryver said. “We’ve worked every step of way to do this above board.” The initiative, set to be decided by voters Nov. 6, seeks to increase salmon and other fish habitat protections in Alaska. A chunk of the Sept. 25 hearing focused on New Venture, a nonprofit charitable group. The organization is not specifically mentioned in the complaint, but is part of the “dark money” the complaint alleges, said attorney Matt Singer, representing Stand for Alaska. Holly Wells, an attorney representing groups on the Yes for Salmon side, said New Venture complies with APOC requirements. “So they are transparent,” she said. New Venture is the second-largest source of the roughly $1 million in contributions to Yes for Salmon, providing more than $200,000, almost entirely in non-monetary contributions such as staff time. Commissioners sought to understand what the group does, and whether its contribution is transparent to voters. Schryver said New Venture is a “fiscal sponsor” to SalmonState, providing financial support and administrative services such as payroll. Schryver said for practical purposes he’s an employee of SalmonState, reporting to SalmonState director Tim Bristol, a Homer resident. New Venture helps launch budding social and environmental efforts, such as SalmonState, said Lee Bodner, its president, in an email to Anchorage Daily News. Projects operate independently, so organizers can determine the best strategy to achieve goals, he said. Tim Dietz, an APOC commissioner, asked at the hearing how the average Alaskan voter can know who is supporting the campaign, if much of the contribution is from New Venture. Schryver replied: “My question would be, ‘How does the average voter know where the money is coming from with BP or ConocoPhillips or any of the groups working to fund the other side?’” “I’m the one asking the questions here,” Dietz said. “It’s obvious they get the money from oil they get out of the ground.” Oil and mining companies have provided the bulk of funding for Stand for Alaska, more than $10 million. Schryver told Dietz he did not know how every penny could be traced back to its origin. Schryver said SalmonState has other employees assisting with the campaign, with others working on other projects to protect fish. New Venture’s payment for employees who assist with the initiative shows up as a contribution to the campaign. SalmonState was involuntarily dissolved as a nonprofit corporation by the state in March. Singer said after the hearing SalmonState is “not a real organization. They call themselves SalmonState, but are just a project of New Venture Fund.” Bristol said in an interview that after forming SalmonState as a nonprofit, he learned it didn’t in fact need to be registered as one. The goal is to become completely independent in the future, he said. “The bottom line is all the ideas and strategies and tactics, everything we work on, all the issues and programs, are born here in Alaska,” Bristol said. He and Schryver said only Alaskans are working on the ballot initiative. The Alaska Center, meanwhile, has reported contributions of about $500,000 to the campaign, largely in non-monetary services, such as for door-knocking or phone calls, according to the complaint. Singer said in the hearing he thought he had identified the source of about half of that contribution. But based on information at the hearing provided by Meghan Cavanaugh, political and field director for The Alaska Center, he said he’s not sure of the “true source” of the entirety of that contribution, either. “It’s a mystery,” Singer said. Cavanaugh said the source of that contribution is The Alaska Center’s general fund. She said she’s fully disclosed what’s required by APOC, but would support efforts for broader disclosure. “My feedback to APOC would be (the required) contribution form could be more comprehensive,” she said. Schryver said his side may have made a misstep in one small area — the “paid-for-by” identifiers at the end of campaign materials. “If there’s not a ‘paid-for-by’ on it, and we didn’t catch it, apologies, we’ll work to correct it,” he said.
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