Mat-Su assembly and mayor will serve 4-year terms

Jan. 17—PALMER — The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly on Tuesday voted to extend the terms of future assembly members, as well as the borough mayor, from three years to four.

But it will be Mat-Su voters in November, rather than the assembly, who decide whether local candidates can include party affiliation on future election ballots. Under a previously proposed ordinance, the assembly would have made the decision, but members voted unanimously during a meeting Tuesday to send the question to voters.

The separate proposal extending by one year the terms of the mayor and assembly members, starting for those elected or re-elected in November, was approved by the assembly 5-2. An amendment to send that question to voters was rejected by a 5-2 vote.

Stephanie Nowers, whose district includes Palmer, and Tim Hale, whose district includes Butte, voted against extending terms and in favor of putting the measure on the November ballot.

Both the partisan labeling and term extension proposals were sponsored by Rob Yundt, whose district includes Wasilla, and Dee McKee, whose district includes portions of Wasilla and Palmer.

Extending terms will allow all borough assembly and mayoral races to fall in step with statewide and national elections, which see much higher voter turnout than do borough-only elections, Yundt said Tuesday. The change does not impact school board term lengths set at three years by state law.

Specific wording for the ballot measure on partisan labeling will be considered by the assembly at its Feb. 20 meeting.

Under the original labeling proposal, candidates for school board, mayor, and assembly would appear on the ballot one of three ways: labeled with the party identified on their voter registration information; as "nonpartisan"; or as "undeclared." It also blocked candidates from designating a party with which they are not registered voters.

If approved by voters, the change would likely mark a first for Alaska, according to statewide municipal government and school board experts, who have said they are unaware of any other school district or local government that allows partisan labeling for candidates.

Borough law requires mayoral, school board, and assembly races to be nonpartisan. Adding labels would not change that because the move would not trigger closed primaries or block voters registered with one party from voting for a candidate affiliated with another, a memo accompanying the original proposal states.

Both proposals drew significant public comment Tuesday.

Those speaking against the partisan labeling proposal worried the change would insert politics into nonpolitical local decisions like road maintenance. Others applauded the measure, saying it would help voters understand the values of those running.

Many who opposed the vote to extend term lengths asked for the issue to go before voters rather than being decided by the assembly. Those who spoke in support agreed that changes aimed at increasing voter turnout are worthwhile.