Fishing is ingrained in the everyday lives of Alaskans, from the ancestors of our native peoples to the present. It’s a way of life for countless Alaskans; I’ve been a fisherman myself for over 25 years. If you don’t fish, I would bet you at least know folks who work in the fishing or outdoor recreation industries. But for the fishing lifestyle to continue its success in our state, we need sound public policies delivered to us by elected officials who listen to us and can hold up their end of the bargain.
That’s why I’m thankful for the opportunity to cast my vote for Ballot Measure 2 in November. We’ve allowed dark money and partisan power to compromise our state political system for too long. Now we have a chance to change things for the benefit of regular, working people, including those of us who fish for a living.
The ballot measure lays out three electoral reforms that, from where I’m standing, should’ve been how our elections worked all along. These reforms will ensure the state politicians we elect truly reflect the political reality of our state. That reality is rarely black and white—or in this case, red and blue.
A strong majority of Alaskans don’t vote with either of the major political parties. Instead, we’re independents. It’s this independent mindset that we must preserve for the good of our people. To do that, we need to make sure that lawmakers don’t have to cater to either party line. They need to cater to us, the people who elected them.
Thousands of Alaska fishing operations fall into the small business category, which means it’s easy to overlook us, especially when outside money influences our lawmakers. When international corporations come to harvest our resources, our voices cannot be heard over their allied special interests. Ballot Measure 2 takes care of “dark money” by requiring candidates to disclose the true source of any campaign contribution that’s more than $2,000.
This reform will make candidates accountable for the contributions they receive and who that money is from. In doing so, we’ll have the chance to remove much of the hold that out-of-state influences have on our elections. So when you or I vote for a candidate, we don’t have to worry if we’re also voting for corporate sponsors behind the scenes who may not have our best interests at heart, or the sanctity of our pristine natural wilderness and waters.
Ballot Measure 2 also creates open primaries for our elections—a luxury we once had, but currently lack. If the measure passes, independent voters will be able to vote in Alaska’s primary elections. That means independents don’t have choose a party before they even choose a candidate; they will all be available on a single ballot so you can vote for a Republican for one office, a Democrat for another, or an Independent for a third.
Having the choice is especially important in 2020, as the fishing industry recovers from the effects of a tough season statewide. We used this primary system for years before a Supreme Court decision—based on issues with California, not our state—removed it from our elections.
But in my book, the most important reform in Ballot Measure 2 is rank-choice voting. This process fundamentally restores the way our elections should work by allowing voters to express their preferences. Under this system, Alaska voters are allowed to rank their choices for candidates by first choice, second choice, and so on. If no candidate gets the majority of first-place votes, the candidate in last place is eliminated. The votes are re-tallied until a clear winner emerges.
Having Alaska policies that encourage bipartisanship is important for people who work in the fishing industry, because we rely on commonsense and common ground legislation that lasts. The laws that govern fishing our lakes, rivers, and oceans are only effective if they last past the administration who enacted them.
The fishing community knows all too well that the stewardship of Alaska’s environment is a responsibility that last decades and lifetimes, not just the length of an administration. Any laws governing fishing in our state must take a wider perspective than what is currently offered by the main two parties. Alaska’s fishermen need legislation that’s independent of political agendas. We need fishing laws that will outlast us, so that our kids have the same chance to make a living that we’ve all enjoyed throughout our careers in this great state.
Ryan Johnson lives in Haines, Alaska and has been commercial fishing in Alaskan waters for 25 years. He owns the F/V Castle Cape and the F/V Devotion and participates in multiple longline, pot, and seine fisheries statewide. When he has free time away from fishing, he can be found skiing somewhere in the snowy peaks of the Chilkat Mountains.