Alaskans recently had a charged public debate over whether mining companies should be able to discharge toxic waste into drinking water supplies. The issue was submitted to the voters with a ballot measure. Polling by supporters showed public strongly favored the measure, even obtaining the support of persons who never supported environmental measures because this issue also affected the livelihood of fishermen. The tide then quickly changed days before the election when Palin violated state law by advocating for the defeat of the measure. Working within the rules of the system, a complaint was filed, and a state agency found that both the state regulators and Palin had violated the law. However, the damage was already done and the measure was defeated. A win by any means at any cost. Is this what lies ahead for our presidential election?
Palin opposed Ballot Measure 4, a Clean Water Initiative, which would prohibit large mines from discharging harmful quantities of toxic chemicals into salmon streams or drinking water supplies. Measure 4 was designed to prevent the largest open-pit gold/copper mine in North America by Pebble mining to be constructed upstream from Bristol Bay, which has the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery. (This 8-minute video has incredible pictures.)
The Pebble mine would dwarf a mine in Utah that is 2 miles across, ¾ mile deep and visible from space. These open-pit mines are the “leading sources” and “worst offenders” of toxic releases.
The problem is that even if the copper tailings are not harmful to humans, it will end up killing the fish because even small levels of contamination affect their ability to smell, which they need to find mates, avoid predators, and find their way home to spawn.
Palin violated the law in order to defeat this clean water initiative. It is against the law in Alaska for a “governor to advocate for or against a ballot measure.” So, Palin claimed a “personal privilege” to discuss a “contentious” voter initiative a few days before the public voted:
“Let me take my governor’s hat off just for a minute here and tell you, personally, Prop 4 — I vote no on that. I have all the confidence in the world that (the Department of Environmental Conservation) and our (Department of Natural Resources) have great, very stringent regulations and policies already in place,” Palin said. “We’re going to make sure that mines operate only safely, soundly.”
Naturally, Palin’s violation of the law stirred up the debate and set the stage for the mining industry to distribute an ad with Palin’s picture and her words of opposition. Of course, Palin claimed meekly that she did not know that her buddies in the mining industry would use her words to campaign against the measure.
Her nod-and-wink endorsement was immediately seized by mining companies to create this ad, which ran in papers around the state as part of an $8 million media campaign–one of the most expensive ballot measure ad blitzes in Alaska history. Six days later, the Clean Water Initiative was voted down.
Moreover, the state regulators also had a website which provided the voters with a “neutral” explanation of the measure that was comprised of negative statements about the proposed law that coincidentally constituted the same concerns voiced by the mining industry. This was important because as the debate became more heated, voters became confused, and might seek a nonpartisan assessment on the meaning and impact of the measure from a state agency charged with performing that function.
After Palin publicly stated her opposition, supporters of the measure filed a complaint accusing her and state regulators of improperly advocating for the measure. The Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) ordered the state to remove its “neutral” explanation of the measure, which the APOC found to be misleading. In fact, the APOC also “ordered state officials not to publicly advocate against the measure after Gov. Sarah Palin voiced her opposition to it.” The APOC later rescinded that order due to concerns over First Amendment.
The measure failed, which many attributed to a popular Governor voicing opposition in a highly contentious public debate:
Polls before her statement showed voters strongly in favor of the measure, but in the end nearly 60 percent of the public voted against it.
“Conventional wisdom around here is that [her statement] changed the tide on the proposition, from narrowly passing to being defeated,” said Van Tuyn.
In fact, the proponent polls showed that the measure would pass and then support “nose-dived” after Palin spoke out against the measure.
This is what we face with Palin and McBush: Two politicians who are willing to lie whenever they speak without feeling any shame or dishonor and a lipsticked pit bull Palin willing to even violate laws in order to win, knowing that Democrats will play within the system to challenge those violations. I’m not saying we should sink to their low levels, but surely we need a plan B?