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November 29, 2021

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Meet Your Republican Candidates, & Bring the Popcorn

It’s hard to know where to begin these days, but let’s start with something nasty that’s brewing which will directly affect the policy positions of Republican candidates, and tells us exactly what to expect if Republicans manage to take back the majority in the State House this November. HINT: It’s going to look a lot like the horrific beginning of last session only there won’t be anyone to stop it.

WHAT AR THEY DUIN?

A strained pun is about the best you can get out of the absolute fiscal disaster the Republican Party is cooking up. Remember when Tuckerman Babcock, the Governor’s now-ousted Chief of Staff, hired a temporary Michigan-based budget hacker named Donna Arduin to come to Alaska, and slash and burn what they couldn’t find an Alaskan to do. (She’d been hired and fired in states across the country murdering budgets for years, so she’s kind of an expert).

The Face that Launched a Thousand Cuts

The brief few months she was here involved her: unsuccessfully pretending to be an Alaskan; getting read the riot act in rural Alaska; saying that understanding the results of her draconian budget cuts on Alaskans wasn’t part of her job; and rapidly becoming the least popular person in the state after butchering the university, ferries, healthcare, the arts, and services for the needy.

When public opinion turned on Arduin, and Alaskans started grabbing torches and pitchforks, the administration offered her a demotion or a one-way ticket back to Michigan. She chose the latter, and Alaskans heaved a sigh of relief. Bottom line? Our ROI for Budget Director Donna Arduin was bad. Really, really bad. She made money hand over fist from our dwindling coffers, while Alaska and Alaskans suffered.

“Alaskan” Donna Arduin, at the Juneau Airport

But like a zombie, or a bad penny, or the Hydra – just when you think it’s gone, here it comes again. Tuckerman Babcock is keeping himself busy while unemployed and has now invited his econo-crush Donna Arduin back to Alaska for the purpose of … wait for it… teaching all the right-wing extremists who just won their primaries how to continue hacking the budget themselves, if they make it to Juneau. We don’t need Donna Arduin to live here, we just need legislators who do what she tells them.


Pre-terminated Tuckerman Babcock and the Governor

Bear in mind that some of these candidates live in districts where voters seem just fine nuking the university and all those other liberal elite money pits. BUT, this is not what most Alaskans think. Not by a long shot.

Paying money to learn at the knee of the Budget Director who poured the gasoline and tossed the match that started Alaska’s fiscal dumpster fire last year were two candidates running for seats in the South Anchorage Hillside – Roger Holland for Senate N, and James Kaufman for House District 28. For those outside Anchorage, these are NOT ideological districts that salivate and rub their hands together at the thought of cutting education, and ferries, and healthcare, and the State Council for the Arts. Quite the opposite. And luckily for residents of this area, there are two fantastic candidates this year in Carl Johnson (D) for Senate N, and Suzanne LaFrance (N) for HD28. More on them in a minute. Now, on to the debates.

 

‘RUNNING’ DEBATES 2020

The premier TV event for Alaska political nerds took place on Tuesday and Wednesday nights as this year’s ‘Running’ debate forum was broadcast online at Alaska Public Media. Candidates prepare hard for ‘Running’ because it lives forever, many voters will spend only these 20 minutes to learn about their local candidates, and those who are engaged in state politics get snacks and beverages and watch this thing like the Superbowl.

That being said, I’ve watched a lot of these, and this year brought quite a few surprises and spectacles, and even more clear choices. Let’s dive right in.

 

FAIRBANKS HOUSE DISTRICT 1 (Downtown)

Incumbent Republican Bart LeBon won this district by literally ONE vote in 2018. This is the district that used to be represented by Scott Kawasaki (D) before he won his Senate seat. We learned many interesting things in this exchange including that LeBon is pro-Pebble Mine, all in favor of taking money from the Power Cost Equalization Fund (PCE) to help balance the budget, and when it comes to whether he agrees with $20 million MORE in cuts to the university system he kind of went ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  and said it was all going to be up to the Governor.  Oh, and he’s a NO on making Juneteenth, the day celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States a state holiday.

WUT?? Has anyone told Bart LeBon what district he’s running for?  If he doesn’t know, nobody tell him and let him keep talking, because he needs to GO.

Democrat Christopher Quist was having none of that, thank you very much. He was ready to go to the mat to fight for the university, said absolutely no on screwing people out of heating assistance this winter,  opposes Pebble Mine, and supports a state holiday commemorating the end of chattel slavery in the United States. Imagine that.

LeBon confirmed what we already knew – this is the most flippable seat in the state. So everyone reading this who lives or knows someone in HD1, vote and make sure everyone you know in the district has a plan to do the same. Literally ONE vote will make the difference and we’re leaving nothing to chance.

I think we’re done here.

 

 

ANCHORAGE HOUSE DISTRICT 27 (East Anchorage)
Dr. Liz Snyder and … The Empty Chair

Things have been heating up in the HD27 House race as embattled Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt is facing a serious challenge from Dr. Liz Snyder this year. He’s the House Minority Leader, and his wife gets 6 figures a year working communications for Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Conflict of interest, anyone?

He also took campaign money from disgraced now-former CEO of Pebble, Tom Collier who was just caught bragging on tape how Alaska politicians are tucked in his pocket. Pruitt said he’s now given that money to a mystery charity he won’t name, and his Democratic opponent Dr. Liz Snyder called him out on taking it in the first place.

Then he made fun of her advanced degrees in public health and risk assessment – as he hosted the giant plague-a-palooza Republican fundraiser in Anchorage. There he is – raining droplets, and preaching to the mask-less choir.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Landfield of the Alaska Landmine

She pushed back on that too.

How did he deal with all this? Badly is the answer. Pruitt DECLINED to participate in the debate! He couldn’t even bring himself to stand in the ring and answer questions. This doesn’t happen very often because most people understand the importance of Running.


Fortunately Liz Snyder did take advantage of the opportunity to present all the reasons she is the best choice. And there are many.

ANCHORAGE HOUSE DISTRICT 28 (Anchorage Hillside, Girdwood)
Republican James Kaufman and Non-partisan Democratic nominee Suzanne LaFrance

If you are wondering why this picture appears to show Republican candidate James Kaufman literally phoning it in from his car in the dark, I can explain everything. That’s exactly what it is.

Apparently Mr. Kaufman was “on the heel of an event.”  Sorry if the audio and video quality weren’t “up to standard” he chuckled. But he was “doing the best he can in a parking lot somewhere in Anchorage.” I kid you not. He also said that public service was “not a bucket list thing for me” but that he got talked into it. A particularly notable moment came when he refused to denounce cutting education by another 25% as the governor proposed. LaFrance, who has kids, was a hard no on more education cuts.

After a bizarre 20 minutes of feeling like a floor mat in James Kaufman’s car, we got to the lightning round. This is a series of yes or no questions. Sometimes candidates have trouble answering because they want to be more nuanced, but they all get through it. Except James Kaufman. Up in the rarified air of his drivers seat, Mr. Kaufman broke the rules of debate over and over (sound familiar?) and just kept rambling on about the totality of the fiscal situation, and finally told the moderator “I reject the question!” (We suggest voters choose that option for Mr. Kaufman at the ballot box).

Meanwhile, Suzanne LaFrance was earnest, thoughtful, and smart. She’s focused on protecting the Permanent Fund for long-term viability, keeping burdens off municipalities, and supporting great education. She has actually balanced budgets before and had real answers. Kaufman got super defensive when she mentioned his paid attendance at the Donna Arduin seminar, but the bottom line is that Kaufman has zero budget experience and went there looking to learn how it’s done because he was told to.

LaFrance is proficient with budgeting processes, and there’s a reason this district has elected her twice before to sit on the Assembly.

Bottom line? LaFrance is a long-term resident, with a family and 3 kids in school and doesn’t think rubbing elbows at a Republican fundraiser is more important than explaining to voters why she is the one they should send to Juneau. This debate should tell you all you need to know about Kaufman, who helicoptered in to Alaska for an oil job, and apparently got bored now that he’s retired and was talked into running for office.

James Kaufman is fourth from the left, in case you couldn’t recognize him in the light.

Oh, and that’s the legislative and candidate group photo from that big Republican fundraising event that Mr. Kaufman was attending instead of preparing for his debate. It’s probably best that the debates were virtual and LaFrance wasn’t in the same room with him – as the very large indoor event with well over 100 attendees clearly violated municipal statute. For Law & Order Republicans, they’re sure acting like the rules don’t apply to them.

 

SENATE DISTRICT B

 

This is an interesting race between a Republican and two non-partisan candidates. Rob Myers ousted long-time Republican Senator John Coghill and is now on the ballot in the general election. Like James Kaufman, he’s got zero experience and is going up against a super-capable woman currently occupying an Assembly seat. If voters are paying attention, this will not go well for him. After the primary Myers, a truck driver, told the press that he was surprised he won and had a lot of learning to do. He can add to the list of things to learn “how to remove the watermark from your fake log cabin Zoom background.”


Eads seemed like an interesting character, and most of his passion revolves around getting a fair share for our resources. Both he and Sanford are Yes on 1 for Alaska’s Fair Share, and Myers is a no. But Sanford kind of ran circles around these guys in terms of knowing her stuff and having the experience and ability to lead the district forward in what promises to be a very challenging session.

Summed up nicely by Matt Buxton of The Midnight Sun on Twitter:

SENATE DISTRICT N

Before we begin, we need to take care of some housekeeping. We’re going to help Roger Holland out because as any member of the military should know, it’s really best to include the mandatory disclaimer for campaign materials.

“Roger Holland is a retired member of the Coast Guard. Use of Roger Holland’s military rank, job titles, and photographs in uniform do not imply endorsement by the Department of the Coast Guard or the Department of Defense.”

You’re welcome. And thanks to Navy veteran Carl Johnson for saving us the trouble.

Roger Holland bounced Republican Senate President Cathy Giessel out of her seat in the primary by rallying the base with sugar-coated promises of not only a full statutory PFD, but a super-sized back payment of PFD checks as well! The downside is that this would take almost $5billion out of the PFD earnings reserve account and seriously hobble its earning potential into the future and forever more.

When questioned, he said he’s cool with “dipping into the savings account” (the Earnings Reserve of the Permanent Fund) because “people do it all the time – it’s not an obstacle.”

He went on, “So, we’re going to be short this year 1.5 to 2.6-7-8-9… whatever billion dollars. That is nothing unusual. We’ve been short $3 billion every year for the last 5 or 6 years and yes I do believe we’re going to have to spend what is available from the Earnings Reserve Account…”

Ummm.

Kudos for the normal background, I guess

For someone who wants to become a lawmaker during one of the most challenging periods in Alaska history he seems alarmingly ignorant of basic budget issues, and almost cavalier about the most important numbers he’s going to have to be dealing with. I don’t know how much he paid to go to that Donna Arduin seminar, but apparently it wasn’t helpful.

When asked how he’d try to make ends meet to fill the gap he said he’d lay off ferry workers (does he know how big the gap actually is?), and yet talked about how we need to increase service, and also about how we can’t afford to keep “running empty ferries.” And then he also acknowledged that there are only 2.5 ferries in operation right now. He seems… ferry ferry confused.

In addition to a full statutory PFD, PFD back payments, and $2000 in stimulus checks, he’d rejectthe $1billion+ a year we’d get from Prop 1. I don’t know if you guys can do math in your heads or not, but the only thing missing to make Roger Holland’s fiscal plan actually work, is a unicorn that poops money. Maybe he’ll promise that too.

 

Oh, and he’s also for a “Pandemic Bill of Rights” that would let restaurants decide whether they want to follow covid-safe practices or not, and let people decide for themselves if they want to become disease vectors.

Carl Johnson came on like a powerhouse of information with actual numbers about the earnings reserve (not ‘whatever billions’), and thoughtful answers based in the real world. He didn’t make crazy promises in his primary, and prevailed. The potential of some spending from savings with the caveat that the super-sized PFD is a no go, a yes on ballot measure 1, and the recognition that we can’t have a serious discussion about moving forward to a sustainable future without considering new revenue sources, rounded out his positions.

He also said he “wants to make sure the legislature serves as an independent check on the Governor when his policies harm Alaska.”

Case closed.

 

HOUSE DISTRICT 31 (Southern Kenai Peninsula/Homer, Anchor Point)

There’s no Democratically-endorsed candidate in the race between Republican Dunleavy acolyte Sarah Vance and Kenai Assembly member Kelly Cooper. But in this debate, the cavalcade of bizarre Republican backdrops continued. Not a car, not a fake log cabin, but Sarah Vance (R)  was sporting a blue tarp or some kind of plastic tablecloth – right out of the package – as her backdrop. It was like that guy at a business meeting who pulled a new shirt out and wore it right out of the package without washing it first.  And she held her phone the whole time making it look like Homer was having a massive earthquake.


Sarah Vance is top of the class in slashing the budget, but came up completely blank when the moderator asked for three line items she would cut. She eventually settled on abortion funding, and the university.

The second thing worth noting, and the thing that should be a slam-dunk for Kelly Cooper in this race was a Pebble Mine question. This should have been a no-brainer for Alaska’s most famous fishing town. Here’s the question.

“The Governor appointed an employee of the Pebble Partnership to the Board of Fisheries. His name is Abe Williams – he is Pebble’s Director of Regional Affairs. Do you think Mr. Williams should be confirmed?”

Vance: “I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Abe Williams myself, and he’s come with high recommendations on his insight into the fishery. I do find it unfortunate that his… um… interaction, his name of being associated with Pebble has been a detriment to him. And I’ve, uh, heard from my district that they feel that because of his ties to Pebble that that would interfere with his ability to govern well and make decisions on the Board of Fisheries, however it should never come…uh… as, um, a point of interest in the committee. I’ve not made a full decision on that, but I will follow… I am taking more insight from people in my district from the fishermen on that issue. I am still receiving emails so I have not made a full decision at this time.”

Cooper: “He absolutely should not be. He should not have been brought forth as a consideration. The Bristol Bay area is critical to our fish, and the Board of Fish is not as balanced as I would like to see it. We don’t have the coastal representation. A lot of them are Interior. These appointments to the Board of Fish should not be political – they should be based on someone’s ability to do the work, and their experience, and their representation in the coastal communities that are sorely underrepresented, and I absolutely do NOT support him being appointed to the Board of Fish.”

Moderator: “All right. Those are both very clear answers.”

Yes, yes they are. But in case you need more…

When the question was asked outright – can the mine be built safely?

Cooper: Absolutely not, in no way shape or form do I support the Pebble Mine.

Vance: That decision is out of my hands and up to the federal government.

Any fishing town that has a Representative who feels bad for the Director of Regional Affairs because his name is being associated with Pebble, is a detriment TO HIM, and saying that his employment by Pebble shouldn’t be a “point of interest” for the committee, and someone who shrugs its existence off to the feds needs to dump that “representation” ASAP.

There’s no question, Cooper will punch Pebble in the teeth and keep it away from the Board of Fish.

NEXT!

 

 

HOUSE DISTRICT 15 (East Anchorage, JBER)

David Nelson accomplished the not-that-difficult task of getting more votes than an accused felon in the primary. A new college grad who’s had 77 days of active duty in the National Guard, he’s brimming with all the stalwart confidence of a new college grad who’s had 77 days of active duty in the National Guard.

When it came to answering the question of the day that everyone running better be prepared to answer – “How would you close the budget deficit of $1 billion budget gap, which rises to $2.5 billion if we pay a full statutory PFD?”

Moderator: Mr. Nelson, you have one minute.

Nelson: I’m not going to take anything off the table. We’re going to take a deep look at all the departments in Alaska…

… … …

…..

…….

…….

…….

Moderator: … … okay.

He didn’t fare much better with the follow-up question.

Moderator: Do you have a sense as to what balance you would look for in terms of cuts vs. revenue? Would you balance the budget entirely with cuts? How would you prioritize those two potential ways of balancing the budget?

Nelson: So first what we’re going to do is we’re going to take a look at the outcomes of what these budget expenditures look like. And then we’re going to see what is actually beneficial for Alaskans and what we can cut…. ……. …….. …………….

Moderator: … … okay.

It’s hard not to think that Nelson probably should have put his efforts into being a campaign volunteer and not an actual candidate for state legislature.

It’s easy to imagine him asking someone, “What do I say if they ask about the budget?” and some Republican saying, “Just tell him you’re not going to take anything off the table, and you’ll look at everything and then decide.” And then he just did that.

Lyn Franks has lived in the district since 1988 (seven years before Nelson was born) when she moved to Anchorage with her husband who was transitioning out of the Army, and raised three children here. She’s an adjunct history professor at UAA and as she put it, “I know the troubles and concerns of my district because I built my life here.”

You can read more about Lyn Franks in the official election pamphlet. You can’t read more about David Nelson, sadly, because he forgot to submit his information on time and isn’t included.

NEXT!

 

 

HOUSE DISTRICT 25 – SOUTH ANCHORAGE

Moderator Nat Herz is all of us after listening to Republican Rep. Mel Gillis.

Best for last. Please enjoy this 2 minute highlight reel (created by Juneau artist, Pat Race) from the HD25 debate. Dunleavy appointee Mel Gillis (R), is trying to win his first election. He’s the one who called the police union and talked about hiring off-duty Anchorage cops to rough up protesters at the Commemoration of the March on Washington in Town Square a few weeks ago.  Non-partisan Calvin Schrage is his opponent, and participated in and won the Democratic primary.

Schrage is a fantastic candidate with deep ties in the community. He’s full of energy, enthusiasm, and ideas. Making South Anchorage a great place for families, and supporting strong public education is his thing.

Mel Gillis? You tell me, because…


>>>CLICK HERE FOR THE VIDEO<<<

Really. Watch it.

 

AND THAT’S A WRAP

The Democrats and Independents definitely won the day. You can find both programs in their entirety at the link.

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This is not the time to sit it out.

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