A referendum to repeal Gov. Sean Parnell’s signature oil tax law is trailing by nearly 7,000 votes, and its opponents are now declaring victory.
When the first returns came in, the referendum was up by exactly five votes. The Vote Yes Repeal the Giveaway team marched into Anchorage’s Election Central cheering enthusiastically and believing momentum was on their side.
But as the night wore on, the numbers began to turn against the ballot measure. By the time all precincts had reported Wednesday afternoon, the nays were beating the yeas with 52 percent of the vote to 48 percent.
At a press conference, Gov. Sean Parnell says he sees the results as decisive.
“I don’t consider a five-percent win in the end as close. We’ve got a lot of elections [where] that’s deemed a landslide.”
Parnell says the results should spur industry to invest more in oil and gas production in the state, a major argument used by the referendum’s opposition. Meanwhile, supporters of the referendum charged that by capping the tax rate at 35 percent, the new regime gives too much of a break on oil production. They wanted to go back to a system where the tax rate on production went up along with the price per barrel.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the referendum sponsors still had not conceded. The Division of Elections still needs to count about 15,000 ballots, with potentially more coming in.
T.J. Presley is the campaign manager for Vote Yes Repeal the Giveaway, and he doesn’t think the race is a landslide for the no crowd — he’s getting satisfaction from the race being such a tight one. He believes that if the referendum had been on the general election ballot along with a set of initiatives on marijuana, Pebble mine, and the minimum wage, it might have been more successful. Instead, it was on the primary ballot, which tends to draw more conservative voters, and it shared space with a high profile Republican Senate contest.
“It was a perfect storm, and in spite of all that, we still got 48 to 52,” says Presley.
The referendum was the most expensive race over a ballot measure in the state history, with the oil industry putting in more than $10 million to defeat the measure. Referendum sponsors spent a fraction of that amount, with a little over half a million raised.
This story was updated at 4:55pm on Wednesday, August 20, 2014.