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September 22, 2021

Shenanigans & Malarkey

No, it’s not a sketchy Irish law firm – it’s this week in the Alaska State Legislature.


THE BUDGET LOOMS

It’s that time in the legislative session, when all the budget subcommittees that take on little bite-sized pieces of the big budget and make recommendations, are starting to wind down. Soon all those little pieces will reconnect and we’ll be on to the next phase. But for right now, part of the draft budget includes a controversial line item we’ve been keeping our eye on. 

Remember a few weeks ago when there was a hearing about the Dunleavy administration’s move to close six rural-ish DMV locations (Eagle River, Homer, Haines, Delta Junction, Tok, and Valdez) and reopen them as “public-private partnerships?” And how that idea would result in costs that were in some cases double what Alaskans are paying now for these essential services? There are some DMVs with a privately owned component already, but they’re all in more densely populated areas. But in rural locations with no competition, they can charge what they want.

Meanwhile, if you are 68 or older, or if you are getting a driver’s license for the first time, or if you want to get a REAL ID, you still have to visit a real DMV in person. If you live in Tok, that means a 4-hour drive to Fairbanks. In Valdez it means hours of driving on some pretty sketchy winter roads that are prone to closure. Or if you’re in Haines, you’ll have to buy a plane ticket or see if you can catch the ferry. 

I mean, no one likes going to the DMV but if anything could make it worse, it’s having the DMV more than 200 miles away.

Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka at House Hearing [photo: AP/Becky Bohrer]

“It really looks like to me this is just an opportunity for some businesses in Alaska to make money at the expense of Alaskans,” said Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage), summing it up rather nicely in a March 11 budget subcommittee meeting.

Commissioner of Administration, Kelly Tshibaka, claims this is a “creative” way to help solve our budget problems. So how much will this actually save the state? A whopping $500,000. It’s going to take a lot more creativity than that to close the 1.5 Billion-with-a-B budget gap.

And remember when we said to pay attention to who the “private” part of this “public-private partnership” might be? Well it turns out that Dunleavy’s Commissioner of Health and Human Services, Adam Crum’s sister just happens to be the owner of the largest private DMV operator in Alaska. 

But don’t worry because Adam Crum says he didn’t even know about that, and that his sister’s company is her “exclusive ownership” and isn’t his business. So no conflict. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

“It clearly is a conflict of interest when an administration official shuts down a government service and another Dunleavy administration official benefits,” said Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage. Fields has introduced legislation which would prohibit DMVs from being closed if they were open on January 1 of this year and in a community of at least 850 people.

This is one to watch as the budget process moves forward, and one to contact your Representatives about especially if you live in one of the affected areas.


GETTING MORE SERIOUS BY THE DAY

The mask nonsense and conspiracy theories du jour are getting tedious, but Sen. Lora Reinbold (R-Eagle River) is more than just an eccentric oddball with some nutty ideas we have to put up with. This week her dangerous tendencies were on full display in the Senate Judiciary Committee during her interrogation of candidates for the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct (ACJC). 

The ACJC is there to conduct oversight regarding unethical behavior, not interpretation of law. You don’t get to file a complaint with the board because you don’t like the way a judge ruled on something. The ACJC doesn’t critique a judge’s perceived politics or their interpretation of law. Reinbold doesn’t seem to understand that, and neither does her senatorial nutty buddy Sen. Mike Shower (R-Wasilla).

Reinbold grilled candidate Jane Mores about whether she believed in “legislating from the bench” citing abortion, and parental consent, and whether she believed a judge could rule that legislation could be found unconstitutional – accusing her of being evasive, and saying she wouldn’t allow her to “play ignorant” of the issues. 

This was made doubly awkward because the candidate is the sister of Sen. Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer), and triply awkward because Shelley Hughes is also on Reinbold’s Judiciary Committee and was literally sitting right next to Reinbold during the inappropriate and hostile questioning of her sister. 

Sen. Jesse Kiehl (D-Juneau) tried to point out the inappropriate nature of the questioning which asked about Mores’ personal opinion outside the commission, and was cut off at the knees by Reinbold proclaiming “Excuse me, excuse me, I am the Chair!” and gaveling an at ease.  When she gaveled back in Mores said that she had heard Kiehl’s objection and it was exactly what she was going to say. 

Hughes then tried to explain to Reinbold that sometimes the legislature can get it wrong and it’s up to the court to determine if a legislative ruling is constitutional or not. Reinbold cut her off too, saying she didn’t want “the sister answering for the sister.” 

If you want even more details on this flaming dumpster of a meeting, you can read about it HERE and watch the whole thing HERE. [It starts to get interesting around 01:48]

It’s beyond time that the Republican Majority removes Reinbold from the caucus – not only for violating rules, wasting time, and making a mockery of the Senate Majority, but for simply not understanding and not being qualified for her job at a fundamental level.

IT’S ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEONE GETS HURT

There’s a reason we always heard that ^^ from the adult in the room and not the kids running with scissors who think they’re immortal and don’t have the ability to think things through. This analogy apparently also applies to Republicans in the legislature and COVID.

Unfortunately, a serious case of COVID in the Capitol hit very close to home for Republican Senate President, Peter Micchiche (R-Kenai). His senior-level staffer, Konrad Jackson came down with a very serious case of COVID and was in critical care and on oxygen in the hospital for a week.

Micchiche said this. “… when it hits someone who I’m that close to, and I hear that person who is always upbeat, always positive, always, you know, raring to go, and you hear him struggling and you realize that we’re playing with people’s lives by not taking this seriously.”  

Those of us have been yelling this from the rooftops while Micchiche and his Republican cohorts have been hosting maskless fundraisers and big gatherings for the last year are happy they figured it out, but frustrated it took something like this to make it “real.”

For some perspective, this happened exactly a year ago:

Young himself contracted a serious case of COVID several months ago.

Jackson’s wife Mary said, “I’ve always said it was the flu on steroids, kind of jokingly,” she said. “Well, it’s not a joke anymore.”

Anymore.

Mary said they fundraised to cover some of their medical expenses, though she wasn’t sure how much those expenses will end up costing or how much they’ve raised so far. She said they do have medical insurance, and that her heart breaks for those who have had COVID-19 who aren’t insured.”

Maybe now that these poor people had to raise money online because they can’t pay their bills EVEN WITH INSURANCE, some Republicans will figure out that single-payer healthcare for every citizen would be a good thing. And hopefully the growing number of those in the Capitol and all others inflicted with COVID make full recoveries soon.


BEN STEVENS SLIPS AWAY AGAIN

Remember back in the day when members of the legislature and the self-named “Corrupt Bastards Club” were busy being indicted and jailed? It amounted to 10% of the state legislature. A certain Ben Stevens was the subject of a lot of speculation after his office was raided, and Alaskans kept “waiting for the FBI” but nothing materialized and Stevens (son of Alaska’s then-senior senator) slunk away in disgrace – we thought never to be heard from again.

Back in 2006

Surprise! Stevens found his way out from under that black cloud, and back to the Capitol, replacing Tuckerman Babcock, Gov. Dunleavy’s former train wreck of a Chief of Staff. Babcock set the performance bar so low that Stevens was somehow able to just walk right over it, and rake in a nice six-figure salary from the state without the public outrage one would expect.

But now, Stevens too will be leaving Dunleavy’s service. Out of the Capitol and into his nice cushy office at oil giant ConocoPhillips. If you’re asking yourself how it’s even legal to have a top-level employee in the executive branch just hopping right over to a job at an oil company, then your instincts are good. It isn’t.

If we’re going by the book, Ben Stevens and all the sensitive information in his head would need to wait two years before he could go work for a private employer like Conoco.

[L-R] Tuckerman Babcock, Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Ben Stevens. (Photo from gov.alaska.gov)

Oh, unless there’s a “waiver” – a waiver signed by the governor and the Attorney General spelling out in very specific terms certain things that he could NOT legally do for a period of two years after leaving his state job and while working for Conoco.

But there won’t be a waiver either. Governor Dunleavy and his new Attorney General nominee, Treg Taylor, say that would be silly because clearly – there is no conflict. And even if there WERE a conflict, which they concede will probably happen at some point, here’s what will happen when that conflict occurs.

“If he encounters a question in his mind, he knows that he can contact the Department of Law any time within the next two years, and speak with our ethics attorneys on whether or not a waiver is needed in that specific situation,” the new AG nominee Treg Taylor said.

Taylor says we’re probably going to see lots of these self-inflicted, case-specific waivers really soon. You just wait and see. 

And how would Ben Stevens know when he should seek this ad hoc waiver, lest he commit unethical behavior that would unduly advantage his new oil company employer who is signing his hefty paychecks?  “The duty lies with Ben Stevens,” Taylor said, to seek the waiver himself.

At this point Ben Stevens is that kid everyone hates in Candy Land who rolls a 6 on the first turn and zooms across the Rainbow Trail without having to deal with the Peppermint Forest waiver, or the Gumdrop Mountain waiting period like everyone else. Only it’s even worse, because Dunleavy and Taylor handed Ben a loaded die.

And of course, if Ben Stevens can get away with the Rainbow Trail shortcut… why not everyone else?

The House Judiciary Committee is set to discuss whether Mr. Taylor is fit to be the new Attorney General today at their hearing. Dermot Cole has more details HERE.


IF YOU’RE STILL NOT CONVINCED

Need more convincing that Treg Taylor is not fit to be Alaska’s next Attorney General? I mean, he couldn’t be as awful as Kevin Clarkson, whose favorite hobby was going full steam ahead with every losing lawsuit and constitutional challenge he could dream up, right?

Well, here we go again.


THEATER OF THE ABSURD – THE SECOND ACT

Senator Lora Reinbold got an ally in the Mask Wars this week – this time in the House. freshman Representative Christopher Kurka from Wasilla gave a dramatic performance on the floor speechifying about how the CDC’s recommendations were probably not based in science, and the whole masking thing is nothing more than a “thinly-veiled power play.” Then he removed his mask proclaiming that we should “end the charade!” He was asked to mask up or leave by the Speaker of the House. Leave he did, but immediately put his mask back on in the hallway, and wore it during his next committee meeting minutes later. But this is performance art after all.

End the charade!

Charade ends. Exit stage right.

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