News from Patrick Flynn

Decisions of consequence

I received word this week that backers of a referendum to repeal Anchorage’s new labor law, the infamous AO 2013-37, have gathered a sufficient number of signatures to place the issue on the ballot.  Ignoring whether one thinks well or poorly of this particular piece of legislation, that fact triggers an intriguing series of decisions.

First among them is whether the municipality appeals the superior court’s decision to allow the referendum to proceed.  Those following this issue will recall the municipal attorney’s office declared the referendum application to be invalid for administrative reasons.  The backers appealed to the court, won, and are now in line to receive reimbursement for attorney’s fees.  The city has the option of appealing to the Alaska supreme court so the decision here is whether that’s throwing good money after bad?

Presuming the city does not appeal or, if it does, the supreme court upholds the superior court decision, next there’s the Assembly’s decision as to how to handle the referendum.  My understanding is that we have two choices:

  • Schedule a special election within some set time (75 days is the number that sticks in my mind, but don’t hold me to that), or
  • Suspend implementation of the ordinance and place the referendum on the ballot for the regular election in April, 2014.

I guess there’s a third alternative – we could simply repeal the law – but I don’t deem that a likely possibility so the binary decision above has fiscal, political and negotiating implications.  Let’s break that down:


Simply put, running a special election would cost at least $250,000, and likely more.  Not to mention the disruptions it would cause to the Clerk’s office.  Placing it on the ballot next year would have a comparatively minimal cost.  Many backers of the ordinance claim the mantle of fiscal conservatism so, in theory, they should prefer the latter option.  But life is never so simple…


Special elections are notorious for low turnout.  That means only the most committed voters participate and, in this case, likely means the referendum would pass and the labor law defeated.  So, if you back the ordinance, you should prefer to place the referendum on next year’s ballot.

That said, if you’ve followed recent events in New Jersey you know that a special election to replace one of their US Senators was scheduled so that the incumbent governor, a Republican, would avoid the risk of high Democratic turnout to support the likely winner of the senate election, Cory Booker, in that state’s general election.  Put another way, by scheduling a special election the governor avoided a circumstance where voters would participate to support a candidate in the senate race and likely vote for the governor’s opponent in the gubernatorial race.  Governor Chris Christie is now expected to be re-elected easily.

Here’s how this applies in Anchorage – if the referendum is placed on the ballot in April in the hopes of increasing the odds of retaining the new labor law it will still drive higher turnout, most likely in opposition.  That will likely manifest itself in stronger-than-usual support for candidates who oppose the new law, many of whom will be on the same ballot.

Rather than delve too deeply into the details I’ll summarize – if the referendum is on the April 2014 ballot Elvi Gray-Jackson and Tim Steele will almost certainly be re-elected while Adam Trombley becomes the most vulnerable (very, very vulnerable) incumbent.

So, since backers of the new law tend to oppose Elvi & Tim, and support Adam, maybe they prefer calling a special election?  Decisions, decisions…


I know I’m bending, if not breaking, my tendency to try avoiding making assumptions about the intentions of others but I’m still going to speculate a bit here.

There are municipal labor contracts under negotiation at this very moment.  Let’s say the Assembly calls a special election; I’m sure unions would continue the bargaining process but does anyone really think the they’ll move quickly to complete negotiations knowing the law under which they’re negotiating is likely to be overturned?  That leaves the city operating with one hand tied behind its back.

Flip it the other way – the administration clearly likes the new law, since they took great pains to promulgate it in secret and spring it on the most of the Assembly and the entire body politic, so they’d like to negotiate under the new rules.  If the referendum is placed on the April ballot to improve its chances of defeat (meaning the new law is upheld, but suspended until the election is certified), what impetus do administration representatives have to speed negotiations during the next seven months under the old rules?

Oh, the tangled webs we weave…


Frankly, I hadn’t ruminated much on this issue until learning about the success of signature gatherers a couple days ago.  Similarly, I don’t really have a strong opinion on whether we have a special election or not.  I have a somewhat miserly streak, which pushes me one way, and I’m still disappointed with the way the process was manipulated, which pushes me another.  Your thoughts?

This contribution was made on Saturday, 07. September 2013 at 11:17 and was published under the category Election matters, Fiscal matters. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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  1. […] One: The repeal effort could go on a special election ballot. On his blog, Assemblyman Patrick Flynn projected those costs could run to $250,000 or more. That could anger […]

    Pingback: Repealing 37: The Road to Petition | Alaska Commons – 17. September 2013 @ 12:04 am

  2. […] 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 […]

    Pingback: The AO-37 Repeal and the Politics of Delay, Delay, Delay | Alaska Commons – 30. September 2013 @ 12:00 am

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