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Signs of the times: Ballot Measure 1 gets personal

By Rhonda McBride 8:55 AM August 14, 2014

For Alaskans with Ballot Measure 1 fatigue, take heart. The election is now just days away, and the onslaught of commercials, debates and mass-produced campaign signs will cease and desist.

But not all of this political battle is boilerplate.

For some, like Andrea Lang, it’s very personal. This year, her job as a music teacher was cut out of the Eagle River High School budget. She believes the current oil tax policy, Senate Bill 21, is partly responsible — so Lang has turned her anger into action by painting billboards in support of the campaign to repeal the bill.

“This is a grassroots campaign. This is a campaign of the people,” Lang said. “It’s money against passion.”

So far, Lang has painted about a dozen signs. Each is unique.

There’s one at the intersection of 15th Avenue and Gambell Street with an Alaska flag motif that says, “It’s Our Oil.”

Some of the others have featured moose and flowers; the latest she is working on has a pair of dice, suggesting that SB 21 is a gamble.

Lang, as she dabbed bright colors of paint on a plywood canvas, called  the signs a personal statement against the “Vote No” campaign, which has spent more than $13 million — with three oil companies picking up most of that cost.  In contrast, the “Yes” groups have spent less than a half a million dollars.

“I thought of how best I can serve this campaign. I could make calls. And I could go door to door,” said Lang, who in the end decided that her skills as an artist would make the most difference. “It’s the talent I can offer, and it’s my crusade, the one thing I can feel effective at.”

Lang said she’s seen pictures of her signs pop up on Facebook, a sign that her handmade efforts are getting people’s attention. She was recently pleased to see a man drive by with a “Vote Yes” sign made out of construction paper in his car window.

Lang believes the homemade approach, especially when so many millions are being spent by the opposition, shows more personal commitment.

And there’s a truck driving around with a two-sided billboard featuring Lang’s signs. One side has the cartoon character Pinocchio with a long nose, portraying the oil industry. On the other side, an image of the capitalist figurine from the game Monopoly represents Big Oil.

Mike Kenny, who drives the billboards around, said he gets a lot of smiles and thumbs up.

“I’ve done many miles with many campaign signs over the years,” Kenny said. “This is by far the best experience I’ve had driving a sign.”

On the “No” side of the fence, a number of local businesses have been working on what they consider a grassroots effort.

At the Army Navy stores in downtown and midtown, employees have been given time off to register to vote. They were invited to attend a presentation from the “Vote No” campaign, to hear why SB 21 is more beneficial to the state’s economy and will create more jobs in the long run.

Felecia Johnson works at the downtown store and proudly wears one of the red “No” buttons that were handed out.

“I’m just an average person, and I’m voting no,” said Johnson, who resents the “Yes” side’s claims that if you vote for the tax referendum, you’re not looking out for Alaska.

Johnson said many businesses depend on the oil industry, including her company, which supplies clothing, boots and outdoor wear for North Slope workers.

She said she’s proud of her company for stepping up to defend SB 21.

“It shows they really care about Alaska, and they care about the future of oil companies, which in turn helps us,” Johnson said.

Andrea Lang questions the commitment of local businesses.

“A lot of the businesses feel, though, they have to side with the ‘Vote No’ team, otherwise they’ll lose business,” said Lang, who has had trouble getting local businesses to put up her signs on their property.

In fact, one sign on Tudor Road was almost completely trashed; found broken into pieces.

The sign has now gone up at the intersection of Northern Lights Boulevard and Muldoon Road. Lang managed to piece it together.

“We won’t crumble,” Lang said. “This is a David and Goliath story. No matter what the odds, we’re going to fight until the end and we’re not going to be bullied.”

Lang did paint a billboard with a David and Goliath theme, but it’s disappeared along with some of her other works of art.

The “No” campaign has also had problems with vandalism and signs disappearing.

And as for creativity, the “Yes” campaign doesn’t have a monopoly on that.

A group of college students campaigning against Ballot Measure 1 produced a homemade music video.

It’s a parody of “Let it Go,” a song from the popular Disney movie, “Frozen.”

Willis Lyford, manager for the “Vote No on 1” group, said the video was not sanctioned by the campaign but is funny and well done.

Lyford said he believes the students wish to remain anonymous, but that two of the creators are a brother and sister who are graduates of Dimond High School.

The video features scenes of hikers tackling Flattop and a roller skater racing down a street bearing “Vote No” signs.

The video is yet one more sign of the times, perhaps, that this race is getting more personal by the day.

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