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June 15, 2021

Headlines:

The Corrupt Bastards are back!

TALL TALES from Juneau

Eyes on the Dunleavy/Babcock Ben Stevens administration

A trip to the WayBack Machine

CORRUPT BASTARDS 2.0

If anyone had a momentary sigh of relief when they heard that former Republican Party Chair Tuckerman Babcock was demoted from Governor Dunleavy’s chief of staff to “adviser,” it was short-lived. We’ve gone from extremist Koch Brothers lackey, straight back to the Corrupt Bastards Club of 2006, only without the official hats. Yes, none other than Ben Stevens – black sheep son of former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens – is now in the coveted role of governor’s right-hand man. If you stretch your mind back about 13 years, you’ll remember the infamous scandal that saw 10% of the Alaska state legislature indicted for accepting bribes from the oil industry in exchange for favorable votes. Court documents referred to “Senator B” until his name was disclosed. Rick Smith, former vice president of the oil services company VECO, testified under oath that he bribed Ben Stevens with $243,250 via a phony consulting contract, and that Stevens worked illegally on official legislative business and acts before the legislature on behalf of the company and its oil interests.

If you need a refresher, or the mid-2000s was before your time, here’s the Wikipedia page.

“Senator B” also chaired the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board receiving even more “consulting fees” totaling more than $250,000 from at least three organizations that had benefited from grants while he served on the board. One document seized by the FBI was a copy of an affidavit by a salmon fisherman who said Stevens had been paid to lobby his father Senator Ted Stevens by a seiners association, and did not disclose it as required by law.

He was also paid in excess of $700,000 for three years’ work on the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games held in Anchorage – a pet project of his father Ted Stevens who sat on the Appropriations committee and funneled millions in federal taxpayer money for the event. And when the games were over he still reaped tens of thousands of dollars in consulting contracts from Special Olympics in Washington. The list goes on, and on, and on.

 

THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY

Out with the old (left) and in with the … older (right)

Despite two raids of Stevens’ office by the FBI, and Rick Smith’s confession to bribing “Senator B” with just shy of a quarter million dollars; and despite Stevens stating he was unable to recall exactly what “consulting work” he did that resulted in $243,250 appearing in his bank account… Ben, Son of Ted, Acceptor of Bribes, First of His Name, somehow managed to avoid prosecution and became widely referred to as the number one unindicted co-conspirator in Alaska’s most ignominious corruption scandal. The state of Alaska didn’t bother pursuing its own investigation into the rampant corruption, and so the slippery fish evaded the net. Stevens mostly vanished from public life for many years, and eyebrows raised when Mike Dunleavy actually hired him back into state government for the cool sum of $150,000 a year as an “adviser.” Now he’s gotten a raise to $175,000, has a shiny new title, and an office in the same Capitol building where he worked his magic as Senator B. But don’t worry about Tuckerman Babcock, no reduction in salary for him, despite his demotion. He’ll still be pulling in $160,000 to advise. So that’s a net increase of $25,000 payroll that seemed easy to find in our days of woe and want. Money is much harder to find if you’re on Medicaid trying to finish your dental treatment, or if you’re in the Pioneer Home watching rates skyrocket, or if you’re a kid who’s suddenly without Pre-K.

 

VALLEY TRASH AND THE NON-APOLOGY

Then there’s the awkward issue of a remark made by Ben Stevens about the residents of Gov. Dunleavy’s home district. Back when a different governor from Wasilla was in office, Stevens got in hot water referring to a resident of the Mat-Su who called him out on the aforementioned corruption “just more Valley trash.” This, of course, didn’t set well, but t-shirts were made anyway, and embraced by said former governor from Wasilla and her family.

Ben Stevens said he was amazed that his remarks were “broadcast and turned into such a media fiasco.” The local paper, the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman said an apology was in order. Instead Valley residents were treated to the dreaded non-apology. According to the Anchorage Daily News, “There’s no question about it, the words I chose to respond to that woman were the wrong words.”… That’s it. Does everyone in the Mat-Su feel better now?

A quick look at Urban Dictionary reveals that even after all this time, Ben Stevens’ “Valley trash” still lives.

DOUBLING DOWN

Back in the present time, the governor has announced that he will not be fighting the “reverse sweep” of money back into dozens of accounts that fund things like power cost equalization, university performance scholarships, the WWAMI Medical School program, and the vaccine assessment program. It’s obvious to him and everyone else that it would not go well for him, and that the legislature now has the votes to override it anyway. The governor had this to say:

“Programs like the Alaska Performance Scholarship and PCE — all items I included in my original budget but were not properly funded by the Legislature — are finally funded and qualified Alaskans can expect to take part in these programs.”

And let’s be clear about who the governor is throwing under the bus. It’s not “the legislature” that was the problem – the problem lies squarely with his own “Wasilla 22” led by Rep. Lance Pruitt, husband to Dunleavy’s communications director, Mary Ann Pruitt. (No conflict there!) Because the whole reverse sweep fiasco began when the Republican House Minority held their votes hostage and sabotaged what was normally a routine procedural matter for the governor’s PFD plan.

If you would like a handy field guide to the legislators that caused this entire problem and all its ensuing panic and angst, you can find it right HERE.

 

BUYER’S REMORSE

Alaskans across the political spectrum have been united in their disdain over this governor’s unconstitutional behavior and lack of fitness for the office. Signature gatherers collected over 10,000 signatures in just a few hours time across the state Thursday. That’s nearly half of the 28,501 needed to apply for the petition. In one day. With exactly $0 spent on advertising! It should be clear to all by now (even the most ardent internet troll) that the recall movement is no joke – it’s a groundswell. Thursday’s state-wide signature gathering campaign was organized, and widespread with locations in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Wasilla, Bethel, Ketchikan, Homer, and beyond. Thousands more signatures are expected to be gathered at this week’s Salmonfest music festival in Ninilchik. The bipartisan effort has as co-chairs Vic Fischer (stalwart Dem. former legislator, and Constitutional Delegate), Arliss Sturgelewski (stalwart Republican and former legislator), and Joe Usibelli (stalwart former Dunleavy supporter and coal tycoon). Yes, Joe Usibelli of Usibelli Coal Mine. When the “open for business, and by business I mean mining” governor loses Joe Usibelli, we’ve crossed the rubicon.

Once the application is approved, the process starts again and 71,000+ signatures will be needed for the actual recall petition. Then it goes to the ballot. For more updates tune in to the recall effort at RecallDunleavy.org.

 

THE BUDGET VETOES

We’re still waiting to hear if the governor is going to take the massive in-your-face hint that the public is extremely unhappy with the budget. Or if he cares. Right now he’s mulling whether to re-veto what the legislature put back in front of him, which restores some funding to the university, Medicaid, pre-K, the State Council for the Arts, and services for the homeless. Headlines called him “unapologetic” about the cuts, and he’s even sent out another letter to the seniors at the Pioneer Home informing them of soaring cost increases.

And just to make sure we don’t fund those government programs using money that we currently give to pad the bank accounts of the oil companies, he’s gearing up to fight the oil tax reform movement that is looming on the horizon.

 

ORANGE YOU WONDERING WHO THAT KID IS?

If you saw the strange and awkward video put out by the governor’s office in which a mystery “student” interviews the governor across a giant bowl of citrus fruit, you might be asking yourself who this child is, and where did he come from? In the video, the student said that he had some questions and “decided to reach out” to the governor, and that Gov. Dunleavy “actually decided to sit down and talk with me.” And then the governor said, “You contacted the office, and I said ‘Sure! Let’s have a conversation.'” So who is this precocious young lad who reached out and contacted the office of the governor? The answer is that the governor’s co-star asking the scripted questions is the son of Kelly Tshibaka, the Commissioner of Administration and Niki Tshibaka, who holds the newly-formed position of Deputy Commissioner of Education in the Dunleavy administration. Together they make about $250,000 a year serving at the pleasure of the governor. Yes, the governor is the boss of both this child’s parents. Suddenly the oranges aren’t the most awkward thing about the video.

Q: How much does Mary Ann Pruitt make again?

A: Too much.

 

This post is reprinted with permission from the Alaska Democratic Party

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One Response to “The Corrupt Bastards are back!”
  1. Frank Smith says:

    Nailed it!

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