Alaskans are understandably suffering some serious emotional whiplash if they’ve been paying attention to what’s afoot in the Capitol. The governor recently sent an email blast urging a no vote on the budget. His contingent of minority Republicans was listening.
At first we thought there was going to be a government shutdown, then at the last minute a budget was passed with bipartisan support despite the governor’s appeals to kill it, and it looked like we were out of the woods.
Narrator:They were not out of the woods.
IT’S ALL FUN AND GAMES, BUT WITHOUT THE FUN
The thing to know in order to fully understand the skulduggery perpetrated by the governor yesterday is the meaning of this.
“The Effective Date Clause.” When people hear terms like that, their eyes glaze over a little but it’s actually pretty simple. Every time a bill becomes law, there’s a second vote (which usually happens without drama) in which the legislature votes on when the new law will go into effect. So there are two votes – one for the actual budget itself, and then a second vote for the effective date – when the budget goes into effect.
The fiscal year begins July 1, so the new budget has to be effective by that date or there’s no money to fund things and the government shuts down, services stop, and thousands of state workers get the dreaded pink slip. And after this year, getting a pink slip is adding insult to injury, big time. So the legislature… excuse me, I should say MOST of the legislature tried diligently to avoid this shutdown.
But there was a little problem. The minority Republican legislators (We’ll call them #TeamDunleavy) had voted AGAINST the effective date clause. Weird? Yes, but stay with me.
Nobody was really concerned about this weird vote against the effective date because there are decades of precedent for something known as “retroactivity language,” which means they purposefully worded the bill in such a way as to avoid government shutdown. So, the actual NO vote by legislators (above) on the effective date clause didn’t matter because the effective date was covered already.
The budget was passed and forwarded to the governor, and everybody got on the plane and left Juneau to go home.
The governor, after receiving the bill on his desk to sign, held a press conference to talk about the budget.
He said that he was NOT going to sign the budget given to him by the legislature because the #TeamDunleavy legislators had voted no on the effective date clause and therefore the budget was “unconstitutional” in his view. And he had “no choice” but to send out layoff notices which happened as he was speaking.
Narrator:He had a choice.
Yep, he decided to ignore the decades of precedent, throw normalcy out the window, and chose to interpret the law in his own way. But, he said, we have a great “opportunity now to craft a budget that takes into account the different views of Alaskans throughout the state.”
What that means is that this whole debacle was purposefully set in motion to force the legislature to appropriate a larger PFD this year than what they feel comfortable with, to appease #TeamDunleavy, even though a budget was passed without them. Tyranny of the minority.
So it all leads back to the size of the PFD. Now, there are plenty of legislators on both sides of the aisle who think we need a larger PFD and plenty of others, also on both sides of the aisle, who think we should have a more conservative PFD. So, if that’s the conversation, the question is how will we pay for it?
Where is this money for a giant PFD coming from? Will there be a new form of revenue like an income tax on wealthier Alaskans? A seasonal sales tax? An education tax? Will we be reworking oil tax structure? Will we decide not to pay out the billion dollars in discretionary tax credits to oil companies this year? Because if we’re going to pay a larger PFD, it has to come from somewhere.
The governor’s answer? No new revenue will be considered.
So in the real world, THAT means unfathomable cuts to state services (remember last year when Dunleavy and Donna Arduin hatcheted EVERYTHING?), or it means the financial equivalent of eating the seed corn and pulling more from the permanent fund than most think is fiscally responsible to sustain it into the future.
And while all this is going on, the threat of a shutdown looms. Unless of course #TeamDunleavy gets his permission to change their votes. Don’t hold your breath.
Twitter yesterday and today is AFLAME.
[James Brooks, Anchorage Daily News]
[Rep. Liz Snyder (D-Anchorage)]
[Rep. Ivy Spohnholz (D-Anchorage)]
[Rep. Zack Fields (D-Anchorage)]
[Sen. Jesse Kiehl (D-Juneau)]
I wish I could tell you what’s going to happen, but it feels like a giant game of government chicken because views are pretty much entrenched at this point, and nobody likes being strong-armed and manipulated after already having gone through the backbreaking work of wrangling a budget in the first place.
Also, going back to square one is a time-consuming prospect and time is running out.
The governor has said that he will call legislators back to Juneau on June 23 if they don’t come back and fix the effective date clause by… *looks at watch*… today. They have until midnight to do it.
IF the government does shut down, the ramifications are staggering in the middle of summer as we try to get back on our economic feet. The ferry system would shut down, the Whittier Tunnel would close, parks and campgrounds would close, no birth or marriage certificates, child support case work, timber sales, hunting and fishing, and according to this article from the Anchorage Daily News when this happened in 2017, a lot of other things.
WHAT. A. MESS.
If your legislator’s name is in red on that vote board above, you might want to call them ASAP and tell them to change their position before it all shuts down.
HAPPY FIRST EVER JUNETEENTH FEDERAL HOLIDAY!
On a happier note, today is the first official celebration of our nation’s newest federal holiday – Juneteenth!
The holiday will be celebrated to mark the end of slavery in the United States, BUT note that it is not celebrated on September 22 when Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation, or on January 1, the day it took legal effect.
The day is celebrated on June 19 to commemorate the arrival of Union troops in Galveston, Texas, more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Why? The law abolishing slavery was the law, but slave states pretty much weren’t enforcing it until Union troops arrived to make them, and Texas was the furthest away.
So for two long years, 250,000 enslaved people in Texas remained enslaved despite the law, living and dying, never knowing they were free. Despite what the right would have you believe, we didn’t magically change into a post-racial society the moment Lincoln’s pen hit the paper.
And while everyone somehow got together to vote for this new federal holiday commemorating the day the last slaves learned they were free, and that those holding them in bondage had been breaking the law for 2 years, the Republicans who voted for the holiday are the same ones who are fighting to 1) keep students from learning this very history and its ramifications by banning critical race theory in schools, and 2) rallying behind heinous legislation designed to repress the voting rights of communities of color.
The very reason that THIS day is celebrated instead of January or September is proof we need to be teaching critical race theory, which simply acknowledges the ways that racism intersects with our legal system. The systems already in place at the end of the Civil War which were rigged against Black Americans didn’t un-rig themselves right then. Black people had to live with and create a new history out of them, and the effects of that are felt to this day in very tangible ways. It’s just a fact, and one we need to learn and not hide from.
President Biden said it yesterday, “Great nations don’t ignore the most painful moments.” 94-year old activist Opal Lee, who campaigned to make the day a national holiday stood watching as he signed the bill.
And so we move on and learn, and teach, and work hard to make it better so we can get people like this who think that knowledge is dangerous out of public office.
Yesterday at the signing ceremony in the White House, Vice President Kamala Harris said, after President Biden signed the bill into law:”We are gathered here in a house built by enslaved people. We are footsteps away from where President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation… We have come far, and we have far to go. But today is a day of celebration. It is not only a day of pride. It’s also a day for us to reaffirm and rededicate ourselves to action.”
Happy Juneteenth, everyone. This holiday is now in the lexicon, and its implications cannot be ignored. That’s a step. One of many more to come.
“I SUPPORT VETERANS! BUT NOT REALLY!”
This is from the website of Don Young:”Alaska is home to more veterans per capita than any other state in the Union, so it is easy to see why the love for our veterans’ community is ingrained in the tapestry of Alaska. As a veteran myself, I understand that we have a responsibility as a Nation to take care of our veterans. I have made that responsibility one of my top priorities and will continue to fight for all those men and women who are willing to step forward and put their lives on the line for us.”
Sounds good, right? He even touts his efforts to get veterans the healthcare they need. So what does “fighting for all those women who are willing to step forward and put their lives on the line for us” look like? Not much, apparently.
Last week, three days after Women Veterans Day, Don Young voted to kill a bill that would allow women veterans access to contraception without a co-pay – just like active duty military women and all civilian women do right now. That’s correct, the Affordable Care Act, and the military insurance Tricare both cover contraception with no copay already. But our veterans going through the VA system? Those women are out of luck, and Don Young isn’t going to help. With his help HR.239: The Equal Access to Contraception for Veterans Act failed to pass the House.
Seems like Alaska women vets should have someone to represent them who really has their backs, not just a bunch of patriotic puffery on a website. Stay tuned…
Remember a few months ago when an angry rioting mob stormed the Capitol in Washington D.C. armed with bear spray, flag poles, baseball bats, and other assorted weaponry and tried to hunt down members of Congress, and overthrow a legal democratic election?
Apparently some members of Congress would like to just gloss that over. Last week the House of Representatives voted 252-175 to create a bipartisan committee to investigate how that happened and what we ought to do about it. 35 Republicans voted for it. Don Young was not one of them.
Don Young has missed 14.2% of roll call votes in his career. The lifetime average for those currently serving is 2%, by the way. But he didn’t miss THIS one. He voted NO, by proxy just as Marjorie Taylor Greene (Q-GA), and Kevin McCarthy, and Donald Trump wanted him to. I guess that means they’ve officially abandoned the “Antifa and Black Lives Matter did it” story, and know that the investigation would point squarely in their direction.
Next we get to find out if our two Senators think a violent assault on our democracy might be worth looking into. Stay tuned.
SCOTUS TAKING UP ABORTION
You’ve probably heard that the US Supreme Court has made the decision to hear a landmark abortion case, which could gut Roe v. Wade. The decision to hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, sets the stage for the court’s newly expanded and emboldened 6-3 conservative majority to reconsider, if not reverse, decades of precedent.
On a state level in 2021, 536 bills restricting abortion have been introduced across the country. Of those, 61 have passed in 13 states, with nearly half of those signed into law in the final week of April alone. According to the Guttmacher Institute, which studies this legislation, 21 states are hostile or extremely hostile to abortion rights, with another eight “leaning” hostile. Alaska is not one of those states, and don’t let these hard-right legislators tell you it is. Here’s the latest information from Pew Research on adults’ views on abortion in Alaska. This isn’t even close.
So how and why does the legislature keep bringing up and passing unconstitutional laws restricting abortion rights or defunding medically necessary abortions?
1) Their districts are gerrymandered so that Republicans are over-represented in our legislature.
2) It’s an issue that gets their socially conservative base to the polls. And as we’re seeing with the strangely high turnout in Anchorage for a hard-right socially conservative mayor – it’s more about turnout than popular opinion. Which leads us to:
HB206 – NO EXCEPTIONS
A predictable abortion ban bill was introduced this week in the House from Christopher Kurka (R-Wasilla), the former head of Alaska Right to Life, and co-sponsored by David Eastman (also R-Wasilla). This is a flat out abortion ban from the moment of conception, with no exception for rape or incest. The big concession is that if a doctor was trying to save a woman’s life and the pregnancy was terminated accidentally, the doctor would not be criminally prosecuted.
Here’s the language of the bill. It’s been assigned to three committees in the House which means it will unlikely ever make it to the floor by the deadline next year, but it should also be a wakeup call that we need to maintain (or increase) the majority in the House, or this is the kind of stuff that will pass.
Kurka concluded with the coffee spit moment of the day by saying, “It’s time to stop being science deniers!”
Yes, this is the same Rep. Kurka featured in this incident👇 a couple months ago.
Mr. “Let’s stop being science deniers” said that enforcement of COVID-19 safety rules in the Capitol were a “thinly veiled power play.” “Let’s end this charade!” he went on. “COVID-19 is here to stay. No measures we take are going to stop it, no matter how repressive a course, or unconstitutional.” He also wasn’t so sure the CDC was really basing their guidelines on “science.” The Speaker told him to mask up or leave. He left.
But wait, there’s more on Kurka fun this week…
ASSISTED LIVING (BUT NOT *THAT* ASSISTED)
Last week, Rep. Mike Prax (R-North Pole) decided that one of the places we should cut the budget was the Office of Children’s Services. That’s right, those kids in harm’s way really suck up the dollars we could be giving to Conoco Phillips, et al. Fortunately, most of those amendments were defeated, thanks to Democrats.
This week, with vulnerable children off the table, it’s apparently time to target the elderly and infirmed. Christopher Kurka put forth some amendments to SB89 (dealing with rules for assisted living homes). His target? Food and internet for elderly/disabled people.
One of Kurka’s amendments removed part of the bill that said assisted living homes need to provide (at the resident’s expense) foods of their cultural preference. This is mostly going to come into play for Native residents where the health and psychological benefits of being able to enjoy traditional foods are huge. Kurka’s objection is that even though foods that comply with religious or health needs are already required and valid, CULTURAL foods are a “dietary whim.”
Rep. Liz Snyder (D-Anchorage) explained that cultural foods are related to both religious AND health needs. Current practice is to provide these foods because the outcomes are so positive, so this is just the statute reflecting what we do mostly already.
David Eastman (R-Wasilla) said it was “unfortunate” when we add mandates, and anyway it doesn’t have to do with “heartfelt religious concerns and health.”
Ivy Spohnholz reminded everyone that “cultural preferences aren’t whims” and that they ARE “deep and heartfelt.” “If your family and community has been eating something for 10,000 years, it seems like they should be able to do so.”
Kevin McCabe, predictably, said that this would “be one more incursion into the free market” because owners would have to “capitulate to everyone’s need.”
Geran Tarr talked about the Alaska Farmland Trust and their focus on the healing power of food. She noted that the Executive Chef at the Alaska Native Medical Center said that providing traditional foods had tremendously positive health impacts, and that we want people to be as healthy as possible. She reiterated that the residents would pay the cost, not the provider.
Kurka wrapped up by ignoring everything and saying, “It’s clear we are limiting the free market… If you pile on piles and piles and piles of regulations, then you are limiting the free market… And when you tell a business what they have to provide you are limiting. This goes too far.”
Not to be deterred, Kurka went on with his next amendment about “another quote unquote ‘enumerated right’” regarding communications in the home, namely internet access. The internet is not a fundamental right, he said.
Kevin “I never actually read the bill first” McCabe said he didn’t support the bill because, “What if they can’t provide internet? It might prevent someone from opening or maintaining a facility. And also “another legislative attempt to limit the free market!”
The bill clearly says that providing internet is “subject to availability.”
Tiffany Zulkosky (D-Bethel) said it was made clear that this language in the bill would not be a burden if there isn’t quality or affordable internet at a particular time. “This language is not burdensome for rural areas, or those with insufficient data. There is a need that exists for elders to be connected with their loved ones in unforeseen circumstances.”
David Eastman: “…something something Free market!”
Ivy Spohnholz clarfied that 97% of assisted living homes have internet access to the home already, and that residents should also have access to it.
Mike Prax (R-North Pole) says “the internet is ubiquitous, but water is too and you don’t have a right to be provided water… It’s the question of right vs. need. Internet is a privilege… we shouldn’t be making choices for people.”
Let’s explore that world for a minute. Maybe some people don’t want to bathe and they only drink juice. Why should we have to provide water. It’s not a right. What if someone is blind? Why should they have to pay for electricity just so everyone else has a lightbulb in their room? They’re not using it. People don’t really need hot showers. Why should they be forced to pay for hot water when they could just take cold showers?
Kurka wraps up by saying, “The internet is a wonderful thing. Being able to call your family is a wonderful thing. But by putting this requirement in the bill we are raising the cost for everybody. It’s unjust to make individuals pay for it to provide for others. The way we are choking the free market in this state is concerning to me.”
Luckily this amendment too failed to pass despite CHOKING THE FREE MARKET!!!
And finally after this dark and dismal amendment debate over how we treat our elders who need help, we’re back to the main bill. Liz Snyder says the bill’s intent is to insert language that will bring us into compliance with The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, provide basic services, freedom from abuse, food that meets religious, cultural, and health needs, the ability to have visitors, and for residents to live a life of autonomy and dignity. Snyder points out that if a facility can’t meet these needs, we have bigger problems. And the bill passes 30-10, no thanks to the names in red below.
The moment went by quickly, but this week in a House Finance Committee meeting, a caller giving public testimony on a bill derisively referred to a legislator as a “trans Republican.” I guess this is the new term for RINO (Republican in name only)? Reporter Rashah McChesney noted the incident.
Speaking of transphobia, Republican Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer) this week introduced an anti-trans sports bill which would basically disallow transgender girls from participating in high school sports. We’ll see this one pop up next session.
I don’t mean to shock you, but there were actually quite a few pretty fantastic things that happened last week too, and here are some of those!
HB55 DEFINED BENEFITS FOR FIRST RESPONDERS
The House voted to pass legislation that would provide a new retirement incentive (defined benefit plan) to help attract law enforcement officers and firefighters.
Alaska is notoriously bad at retaining police and firefighters because we’ve got a really uncertain retirement system that incentivizes what Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage) called “train and drain” meaning that people come to Alaska to get great training, but then drain out of the state after five years, taking their experience with them to other places that offer much better retirement plans to spend the bulk of their careers. As a matter of fact, Alaska is one of only two states that does not offer public safety workers any form of defined benefit retirement options. It’s a problem.
Reps. McCabe (R-Big Lake) and Kurka (R-Wasilla) spoke up about how they are really concerned about “golden handcuffs” that will keep police officers and firefighters here for too long. (???)
Adam Wool says that the head of the Department of Public Safety said that recruitment and retention are problems and the current retirement plan is a huge part of that.
Tom McKay, freshman Republican from Anchorage, says that if we’re having such a tough time finding police and firefighters we should just poach them from Democrat cities that had rioting over the summer because “there should be a surplus.”
Zack Fields (D-Anchorage) says the rank and file have told us that the lack of a defined benefit plan is the root cause of high-cost turnover, and that management is telling us the same thing. This plan is structured so there is zero financial risk for the state. He also says that vacant positions are a public safety problem, and we pay in crime. “This bill supports the police.” He also points out that most people have a defined benefit called Social Security, but police and firefighters do not.
Sarah Vance (R-Homer) says that she thinks the police don’t receive enough appreciation and she totally supports the police. Just not now because “the timing is imprudent.”Boy, these supposed “Back the Blue” people sure don’t want to fund the police!
Despite them (see vote board above) HB 55 passed the House 25-15 with all Democrats voting yes, and it will now be transmitted to the Senate for work next session.
RECOGNITION OF ALASKA TRIBES
House Bill 123, a bill that formally recognizes the Alaska Native Tribes that have existed here and governed themselves for millennia got to the House floor Wednesday, too. Alaska’s history with tribes is fraught, and many Native people were forced to abandon their culture, identity, languages, and ways of life as Alaska moved toward statehood and after. HB 123 does not change the State’s relationship with Tribes, it simply affirms their status as already acknowledged and enumerated by the federal government. There is no “fiscal note” attached to the bill which means it doesn’t cost the state anything. And as a matter of fact, the state recognition opens up the avenue for millions of federal dollars to benefit rural Alaska.
Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky (D-Bethel) sponsored the bill. She called it “significant because it is difficult to speak about expanding our relationship with Tribes when the State doesn’t acknowledge them in Alaska statute.”
Rep. Neal Foster (D-Nome) added, “Alaska relies on our Tribal partners to help provide services essential to Alaskans living in rural parts of the state. Tribes contribute to everything from public safety and transportation to healthcare and economic development.”
This should be a huge no-brainer unanimous yes vote, BUT…
The NO votes to acknowledge Alaska Native tribes were: David Eastman (R-Wasilla), Christopher Kurka (R-Wasilla), Kevin McCabe (R-Big Lake), and McCarty (R-Eagle River). Shame on them.
The bill now heads to the Senate where it will be taken up next session.
House Bill 47 is another bill that should have been a unanimous yes. All it does is shorten the name of “The Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council” to the “Council for Alaska Native Languages.” It also adds two members for a total of seven, to more adequately represent the wide cultural diversity of Alaska Native languages. It publishes a report every two years with recommendations and analysis.
There are 21 Alaska Native languages spoken today, and the council seeks to revitalize their use. Half the languages have fewer than 10 fluent speakers left. Anti-Native language practices and attempts in the past to eradicate Native culture are responsible for the sharp decline.
“What kind of humans are we if we stand upon a foundation of racism and allow systems of communication that are tens of thousands of years old to be lost?” asked X̱’unei Lance Twitchell, a council member and Tlingit language scholar in this article on the council.
I suppose we could ask David Eastman (R-Wasilla) and Mike Prax (R-North Pole) who were the only two no votes.
Here’s one that’s been in the hopper for a long time. Back in the day, Senator Johnny Ellis pushed the creation of an industrial hemp program, and when he retired Sen. Shelley Hughes was handed the baton. It passed the Senate, and this week Rep. Grier Hopkins (D-Fairbanks) took it over the finish line.
[Back in the day it was the Freedom to Farm bill – SB8. Today it’s SB27!]
Industrial hemp is completely different from recreational marijuana and has many applications, from fiber, to cosmetics, to food supplements, to building materials, to paints and solvents, to animal feed, to biofuel.
It has no psychogenic properties and has a THC level below 1%. But most important, it opens up a whole new industry in the agriculture sector and provides green alternatives to traditional products that use petroleum, and creates jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.
It now goes to the governor’s desk for his signature.
*And a big congratulations to Rep. Hopkins and his wife Kristina who just became parents to a beautiful baby girl! Welcome to the world, Isidora!
THE LONG TRAIL
Senator Bill Wielechowski scored a big win last week, when this amendment was accepted by the Senate! “The Long Trail” is a working name only, and the Senator has said that suggestions are welcome.
RESPECT AND CARE
Three more things of note to make you happy.
1) HJR16 from Geran Tarr asks the U.S. Congress to give the Hmong veterans who were such a lifeline for so many American soldiers in Viet Nam (many risking or losing everything) the same benefits as U.S. soldiers of that war passed with unanimous support.
2) SB19 passed both bodies, and extended the sunset date for the Special Education Service Agency, and increased funding for a program making sure that students with uncommon disabilities in smaller school districts aren’t overlooked and have their educational needs met. It now awaits the governor’s signature.
3) HR 8 – The House voted to create a Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity with 23 members. It will delve into the reasons, challenges, and solutions that target lower-income Alaskans. Rep. Tarr mentioned the discovery that many were using the ER for health issues simply because it was near a bus stop. $20 transportation vouchers helped solve the problem and save the state lots of money! The resolution to create a task force on poverty passes 34-6.
The big deal in the Senate came with the PFD votes at the end of a mammoth session, but before we go there, I have to point out a few eye-rolling moments along the way.
CRITICAL RACE THEORY 😱
Amendment 3 to the budget had Sen. Lora Reinbold trying to insert intent language saying that public funds cannot be used to teach “divisive critical race theory in schools.” Once again, nobody really seems to understand what it means except that “critical race theory” has the word “race” in it and right wing media has latched on to it so now Republicans think it’s scary because racism doesn’t really exist except when you talk about it.
To the rescue was Sen. Tom Begich (D-Anchorage) who stood to say he objected to Reinbold’s characterization, and saying that critical race theory is not taught in any K-12 system in America. He goes on to explain that the theory is discussed in academia to understand the intersection of race and the law, but that it’s generally used by the far right to stir the pot and whip up fear and racial animus. “It’s been grabbed on to by people attempting to create racial divide.” “It’s a thing taught in law school and grad schools to look at how we develop and create law.”
He gave two examples of how using critical race theory is/was in play in Alaska.
Prior to the federal fair housing act, South Addition, Airport Heights, Fairview, and Rogers Park (all in Anchorage) had strict covenants prohibiting Black and Native Alaskans from renting or buying homes in those neighborhoods. And some of these still exist on the books! “This is why we decided to pass the Fair Housing Act.”
He also said that back in the 90s we found we were not ‘diverting’ Alaska Native kids enough. Diversion is when you commit a minor crime, the idea is to ‘divert’ you from entering the juvenile justice system where you might learn more about crime. Alaska Native kids were ending up in the system at 3 times the rate of others. They found out it was because judges were required to release a child to a parent. And in Alaska Native culture there were often caretakers who were not biological parents, but extended family members like aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. “We rewrote the law based on that. That was the consequence from examining it throught critical race theory.” As a result, more non-violent offenders who were Alaska Native kids were included in diversion.
He said he didn’t believe Reinbold was trying to be divisive but urged a no vote.
Reinbold said she “doesn’t want to undo good work we’ve done, but I won’t push to a vote today. I will withdraw the amendment.” But then someone objected and they had to proceed. Here’s how it fell out. Rejected 11-9.
WE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ MONEY… APPARENTLY
Amendment 15, from Senator Wielechowski (D-Anchorage), said it’s the Legislature’s intent to extend the $300 federal weekly unemployment benefit through Sept. 4. He made a compelling case that we shouldn’t reject hundreds of millions in federal dollars that could be infused into local economies and spent at local businesses by people who really need it and FOR businesses that need it.
Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson (D-Anchorage) implored the Senate to have empathy to those in real need and come together to make it happen.
But the ol’ “those people just want to be lazy and stay home” trope was brought up by Lora Reinbold (who is also suddenly concerned about federal debt after never mentioning it for 4 years).
Jesse Kiehl (D-Juneau) talked about Southeast where there are no jobs, no cruise ships until maybe August, and fading hope. They need the assistance for groceries and gas. He pointed out that not all areas of the state are the same.
Wielechowski added that we have the lowest unemployment insurance in the country and we are an expensive state to live in. We’re talking $219 million in federal funds.
The amendment failed 10-10, with Bishop, Holland and Stevens joining the Democrats in voting yes. We needed only one more yes vote, so please note who voted no and turned away hundreds of millions of dollars in help. Yep, that’s Mia Costello (R-Anchorage) who didn’t want essential workers to get educational opportunities because if they have a chance to escape poverty-wage jobs – who will bag our groceries?
Sorry, Alaska. The Democrats tried.
Welcome to the weirdly least partisan thing in the Senate – the PFD. It’s a free-for-all with both Democrats and Republicans on both sides of everything from a full statutory PFD, to a sort of measly one.
Here’s how everyone fell out with the two options presented.
This amendment from Sen. Bill Wielechowski would have proposed a full $3400 PFD payment to all Alaskans. It failed on a 10-10 vote with 7 Republicans and 3 Democrats voting in favor.
Then Mike Shower (R-Wasilla) proposed a smaller PFD but much larger than anything discussed in the House – $2340, which used some of the PFD money to fund the budget. This one passed 12-8, picking up two more Democrats.
If you want to hear a clip from Sen. Wielechowski’s floor speech on why we’re in this position in the first place, and why our PFD (which is the most regressive tax according to UA’s Institute of Social and Economic Research) keeps getting cut CLICK HERE.
SPOILER: It has something to do with giving billions of dollars in tax credits to giant corporations instead of Alaskans. But you knew that already.
THE END IS JUST THE BEGINNING
No sooner had the regular session ended, than the next morning a new special session began. This begs the question, if there are ALWAYS special sessions are they really all that special?
Regardless, this one (the second one will be in August) deals with tying up the loose ends of the Operating and Mental Health budgets, the PFD, and constitutional amendments on the Permanent Fund, the PFD, and the Power Cost Equalization (PCE) program which provides economic assistance to communities and residents utilizing rural electric utilities where the cost of electricity can be three to five times higher than for customers in more urban areas of the state.
We’ll see how the House and Senate reconcile their different ideas on the PFD, and if they can wrap up before June 1. Otherwise, the dreaded annual tradition of pink slips to more than 14,000 state workers will rear its head yet again. Buckle up – the beginning of the end is in sight.
To say it was mind-numbing to listen to Sen. Dan Sullivan in his address to a joint session of the legislature is an understatement. To say that was surprising wouldn’t be true. Mind you, he’s not up for reelection until 2026. His job security is solid. He doesn’t need to pander and whip up “the base” to get votes any more. This was the perfect opportunity to deliver a positive address, looking to the future, reassuring the 44% of Alaskans who didn’t vote for him that maybe he wasn’t so bad, and trying to do his part to stitch up the wounds of a battle-weary nation.
But, hey, why let an opportunity to be an insulting divisive partisan agitator go to waste?
Sullivan, in the House chamber, sounded like he was addressing a maskless Republican fundraiser. He chose to use the podium to insult and denigrate the Biden administration and Democrats by analogizing us to the Communist Chinese during the Korean War, and painting us as un-Alaskan militant radicals. Remember that Alaska’s largest city, representing over half the population of the state, voted for Joe Biden, as did the capital where he delivered this speech, and huge rural swaths across the state.
But let’s dig in.
Sullivan led off by saying he thinks this is the most important speech he gives all year, which leads us to wonder how tone deaf he must be when he’s NOT trying. He never gave last year’s address because of COVID, but he did pat himself on the back, saying that in the speech he never delivered, he had rightly predicted this line, “I will work with you to get all the resources Alaska needs to fight this pandemic!”
This might have been the biggest coffee spit line of the speech, right off the bat. Consider for a minute that Sullivan just had the opportunity to vote for:$1.7 billion (with a B) to AK state/local governments, $370 million for K-12 education$20 million for Alaska Tribes $1400 checks to 85% of all Alaskans Extended unemployment benefits for those who lost jobs $40 million in housing assistance $500 million in housing assistance for veterans in need$8 million to help adults and kids who are going hungry
All this was contained in Biden’s American Rescue Plan for Alaska. So, guess how Senator Dan “I will work with you to get all the resources Alaska needs” Sullivan voted? He voted no. Also, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) voted no. Also Congressman Don Young (R) voted no. To all of this. For Alaskans. Because Republicans have no agenda except to prevent Democrats from doing good things, because then we might keep winning.
In talking about COVID, he made sure to thank “healthcare workers who got us through” and lauded “Operation Warp Speed,” the Trump-era push to develop a vaccine. Did Tribal organizations get a shoutout for their extraordinary work in delivering vaccines (including to much of the legislature that was sitting in the room)? Nope. What about Biden overcoming all logistical odds and putting 200 million shots in arms in less than 100 days? Nope. What about even acknowledging the above relief measures from the American Rescue Plan. Nope. It’s like none of those things existed.
THE COMMUNIST CHINESE
After explaining that he’s a bit of a Korean War history buff, Sullivan said, after thinking about it, he chose this analogy to explain the political situation as he sees it. He “drew some inspiration from the past.”
Get ready for the inspiration.
In 1950 at the battle of Chosin Reservoir, there were 20,000 U.S. Marines (the Republicans in the analogy) and they were outnumbered by 120,000 Communist Chinese (Biden/Democrats) and it looked like all was lost. “The enemy” (Biden/Democrats) was in front, and flanking both sides, and our boys (the Republicans) had to retreat to the sea. But don’t worry, they stuck together and with grit and determination they won the day and defeated the enemy (Biden/Democrats)!
You could practically hear the clenching teeth from Democratic legislators who had to sit politely and listen to this.
And after he wrapped up his war metaphor, Dan Sullivan told us not to fear because he is in the trenches, repeatedly “calling for a cease fire in the Biden administration’s war on Alaska’s working families.” I guess that’s his way of saying ‘you’re welcome’ for the billions in help we just got even though he voted against it.
ALL ABOUT OIL
He then went down a laundry list of projects and rollbacks of environmental regulations that happened under the waning days of the Trump administration, and how now some of these things are paused and “under review” by the Biden administration which JUST MAY BE THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT.
He said the looming Willow project is an important strategic project which could create a lot of revenue for the state. The administration is looking at it now. Then he said, “we need all your help, especially our Democratic friends in the legislature. Please underscore the importance of Willow when you talk to Biden administration officials.”
That’s right you dirty rotten commies! As our sworn enemy who wants to destroy the country, we could sure use your help to get stuff we want! Thanks! Mwa!
BIDEN IS DESTROYING ALASKA!!… OH, WAIT.
THEN, (this is the best part) he proceeded to talk about all the great things that Biden and his cabinet were doing for Alaska, and how he was able to work with members of the administration who seem to be pretty reasonable – The Fairweather is now home-ported in Ketchikan after decades, there’s a new 20 million dollar investment in a dock, pier, and offices. “This is an important victory,” Sullivan said. And there will be more icebreakers, more Coast Guard cutters, and we’re moving toward being able to repair and maintain ships in Ketchikan and Seward. Also KC-135 tankers are to be home based in Alaska bringing up 120 more airmen and their families, 100 MORE F135’s and F22’s are coming to Alaska “which is great for national security and the economy!”
Biden is sooooo mean.
BIGGEST BATTLE #1
He highlighted two long-term battles “that will shape America for decades.”
You knew this was coming as soon as their guy was out of office. Suddenly the biggest threat to America is too much spending! Biden wants to spend too much according to Sullivan. Of course Biden wants to spend money on things like the American Rescue Planthat Sullivan and Murkowski voted against, and not tax cuts for the wealthy that Sullivan and Murkowski voted for. (SEE BELOW)
“They are tempting America with cradle-to-grave European-style socialism. They are cutting the ties between work and income and so doing undermining the notion of earned success and the dignity and importance of work. This connection between wages and work is what’s made us the most creative dynamic country in the world. That’s what’s at stake! It’s dangerous and detrimental to the country’s long-term fiscal and cultural health to look for big government to be part of every facet of our lives.” -Dan Sullivan
He must have used a compactor to fit that much trash in only five sentences. This is how he characterizes pandemic relief, the boosted unemployment, the stimulus checks, the money that has come to help Alaska schools, businesses, health care providers, tribes, and families, and the veterans he’s always talking about. Don’t be tempted by that cradle-to-grave socialism, Alaska! Better burn that stimulus check! No, not the one Trump gave you… THIS one!
This is the same sorry old trope we’ve seen from Republicans for decades. Government shouldn’t help YOU, it should stay out of your way (and help the already rich and corporations, who we’re totally sure will trickle it down to you working grunts at some point.) The “SOCIALISM!” canard is exactly what they said about FDR who we can thank for unemployment, social security, the Banking Act, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Emergency Banking Relief Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and scads of other programs and policies that lifted people out of the Great Depression and protected them from abusive employers, predatory banks, and practices that hurt workers. They gave Americans a fighting chance.
But there were still those Republicans who didn’t want to invest in Americans. Glad they lost.
***Not to go off on too much of a tangent, but I can’t help think of Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage) who didn’t want to give educational opportunities to front-line workers who’d kept us going during covid because – “who will bag our groceries?”
BIGGEST BATTLE #2
Other than Democrats who want to tempt us by actually improving our lives, what’s the biggest threat? The Communist Chinese, who are exporting their authoritarian model abroad. (No mention of the former US President who was brewing his own authoritarian model right here at home). He said China cheats in international trade, steals our intellectual property, and is undergoing a massive military buildup that could threaten our military supremacy in the world. All this is true. So how do we combat this?
Sullivan tells us that what the Chinese Communist Party fears more than anything is… (drumroll)… a long-term bipartisan American foreign policy. That’s right, we all must work together, hand in hand, Democrats and Republicans, against a common enemy.
Sullivan says he’s “working day and night closely with members of the Biden administration because we’re all Americans and must work together to prevail.”
I don’t know about you, but I needed a whiplash collar at this point.
He literally compared Democrats to the Communist Chinese, then says we have to work with them to defeat the Communist Chinese.
He says, “Alaska is under attack! The Biden administration is targeting jobs, our way of life, and trying to dismantle accomplishments… And yet he votes against the biggest opportunity to help Alaskans in decades.
He tells us that we are entering “hostile territory” with the new administration, yet details how reasonable they are to work with and how much Alaska has already benefited.
He insults Democrats and all their beliefs to their faces, and then asks for their help.
WATCH HOW HE VOTES
But wait and watch. There’s more hypocrisy to come, you can bet on it.
After griping that Biden’s “central pillar is to kill American energy and jobs,” lamenting that some Alaska communities don’t have clean water and sewer systems, and saying we need to support hero veterans, and create jobs, just watch how Sullivan votes on the American Jobs Plan because that will tell you everything you need to know.Here’s a quick rundown of all that the AJP would do for Alaska.
Alaska’s infrastructure received a C- grade on its Infrastructure Report Card. The American Jobs Plan will make a historic investment in our infrastructure.
ROADS AND BRIDGES: In Alaska there are 141 bridges and over 570 miles of highway considered in poor condition. You can probably think of some off the top of your head. On average, each driver pays $402 per year from driving on bad roads. The AJP will devote more than $600 billion to transform our nations’ transportation infrastructure, including $115 billion repairing roads and bridges.
RESILIENT INFRASTRUCTURE: Alaska has experienced 2 extreme weather events in recent years, costing the state up to $1 billion in damages. The President is calling for $50 billion to improve the resiliency of our infrastructure for the future, and support communities’ recovery from disaster.
DRINKING WATER: The American Jobs Plan includes a $111 billion investment to ensure clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities. Are you listening Dan Sullivan, Lisa Murkowski, and Don Young??
HOUSING: 37,000 renters in Alaska are rent burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent. AJP would invest over $200 billion to increase housing supply and address the affordable housing crisis.
BROADBAND: 24.5% of Alaskans live in areas where there is no minimally acceptable broadband. Even where infrastructure is available, it may be too expensive to be within reach. 12% of Alaska households don’t have an internet subscription. The American Jobs Plan will invest $100 billion to bring universal, reliable, high-speed, and affordable coverage to every family in America. Yes, please!
CHILD CARE: In Alaska, there is an estimated $121 million gap in what schools need to do maintenance and make improvements, and 61% of residents live in a “childcare desert.” The AJP will modernize schools and early learning facilities and build new ones in neighborhoods across Alaska and the country.
HOME ENERGY: In Alaska, an average low-income family spends 6-8% or more of their income on home energy costs, forcing tough choices between paying energy bills and buying food, medicine or other essentials. The AJP will upgrade these homes to make them more energy efficient through the Weatherization Assistance Program, and expanded tax credits to support home energy upgrades.
CLEAN ENERGY JOBS: As of 2019, there were 5,628 Alaskans working in clean energy, and the American Jobs Plan invests in creating more good paying union jobs advancing clean energy production by extending and expanding tax credits for clean energy generation.
VETERANS HEALTH: Alaska is home to over 69,000 veterans, 13.8% of whom are women and 29.7% of whom are over the age of 65. Biden is calling for $18 billion to improve the infrastructure of VA health care facilities to ensure the delivery of world-class, state of the art care to all veterans enrolled in the VA health care system. How will our delegation vote?
AND IN CONCLUSION
I could go on, but you get the gist. He ended by saying Alaska has midnight sun, and dancing aurora, and all the “dysfunctional and mismanaged cities and other lifeless, dull places in the Lower 48” are “hollowing out,” so those people should come to Alaska and telework from here because we have Freedom™ that you can smell when you get off the plane! (Wait, aren’t all those Lower 48 city people Democrats??)
And then one final Korean War metaphor to round it out. Remember the amphibious landing at Inchon!
With all those war metaphors, and military jargon, nothing at all, not one word, about Trump supporters violently attacking the Capitol in hopes of overthrowing the results of a democratic election. Not worthy of a mention, I guess.
It was as exhausting as it sounded. But remember when Sullivan acts all outraged at treatment of veterans and Alaska Native people, and bemoans the sad state of our infrastructure and jobs – he did NOTHING to help Alaskans of any stripe, and he will do nothing to promote jobs and infrastructure when the rubber meets the road, as it were.
THIS LORA REINBOLD QUOTE TOPS ALL OTHER LORA REINBOLD QUOTES
When I say that Lora Reinbold really outdid herself this time, I don’t say it lightly. After the daily saga of listening to her whine about “mask tyranny” and her violation of Capitol rules to the point where she was 1) not allowed in the building, and to the point where 2) she was removed in a unanimous vote by her Senate colleagues from her position as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, 3) to the point where she was banned from Alaska Airlines (the only regular flights in and out of Juneau) and had to drive and take the ferry back to the capital, she has now taken her show on the road!
Yes, she showed up on Newsmax telling the story of how Alaska Airlines “barked” at her and told her to wear her mask over her nose. And how they banned her with no “appeals process” which is interfering with her legislative duties so she’s seeking legal counsel right now. Click the link to hear all of what she had to say. Highlights are below.
“They used to be all about customer service and pleasing their customers, and now it’s all about the mask. They are literally obsessed over the mask. And I think it is a potentially illegitimate quote/unquote ‘law’ from the Biden administration. Who gave Biden the authority to tell us what to do in every corporate jet, in every airline, in every train, in every boat… I mean, I think it’s the biggest, broadest federal overreach and violation of civil rights in the history of America.
“What we’re facing right now is medical tyranny, corporate tyranny, and political tyranny and it’s time for every single Alaskan and every single American to read the Declaration of Independence, and read their Constitution of their state and the United States Constitution, and defend your rights.”
Perhaps it’s time for Sen. Reinbold to read a history book. She might learn about chattel slavery of African people, Japanese internment during World War 2, the genocide of Native Americans, Jim Crow, voter disenfranchisement, the Wilmington coup, family separations at the southern border, systemic racism , Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Trail of Tears, eugenics, … we could be here for a while. Wearing a mask on a plane during a pandemic does not approach any of these things, but thanks for playing.
DOWN TO THE WIRE – LIES & MISFIRES
By the time this issue of Tall Tales lands in your in box, Anchorage residents will have less than four days left to vote in the most consequential local election they’ve had in a long time. The rest of the state is stress-munching popcorn, but if you’re lucky enough to live in the Municipality, you are one of those who has a say about whether half the population of the state has a great, hard-working, open-minded and thoughtful mayor, or… Dave Bronson.
We sent out a mailer recently, reminding people of why Dave Bronson is too extreme for Anchorage and in no way has the capability to effectively represent one of the most diverse cities in the country. While we were doing that, the Bronson campaign was busy sending out mailers of their own. How do we know? Because apparently they’ve spent their donation money to send these mailers to women, including almost the entire staff and leadership of the Democratic Party in Anchorage. D’oh! But remember, this is the same crowd who sent a “Recall Rivera” mailer to Fairbanks, so I guess their targeted mailing game hasn’t gotten any better. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
In addition to his bad policies, backward thinking, and logistical ineptitude, Bronson also wins the Flaming Pants award this week. He claimed endorsement of Public Employees Local 71 on a recent mailer, forcing the union to put out a rebuttal statement that was made of 🔥🔥🔥. You can read the whole thinghere, but here’s the closer:
“Since your own public statements indicate that you would “cut everything but police,” we are left with the impression that would also mean the essential services our members provide, upon which police, fire, and the public rely. Without our services, roads are not cleared, facilities are not operational, and schools are unable to accommodate a much-needed return to the classroom. The information publicly available and provided by your campaign to date serves to undermine rather than support our membership, which precludes our ability to endorse you.”I hope this correspondence provides an explanation for our need to publicly clarify that your candidacy has NOT been endorsed by our union.”
By this time next week, the die will be cast in the Anchorage Municipal election. Polls close 8pm on Tuesday, May 11. Postmark and mail your ballot by 5/11, or drop it in a drop box, or if you need a ballot, go to one of the voting centers listed at muni.org. But however you do it, please do it.
The legislature finalized House Bill 76this weekthat allows Alaska to keep millions of dollars in critical federal covid-related funding. But it didn’t come easy. The House passed their version of the bill back in March, then it went to the Senate, which brought it to the floor with 41 amendments, and only 2 days to spare before the money evaporated.
Republicans had some doozies. Majority leader Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer) had an amendment which said that “biological girls should play biological girls, and biological boys should play biological boys” in high school sports. Minority Leader Tom Begich (D-Anchorage) pointed out that this had nothing to do with disaster funding, and the amendment was withdrawn.
That didn’t stop David Wilson (R-Wasilla) from proposing an amendment to financially punish schools who decided to teach “critical race theory” – the new trigger of the right. Again – nothing to do with anything in the bill, so he withdrew it. Then Lora Reinbold (R-Eagle River) said we need to explore the use of Vitamin D and hydroxychloroquine (yes really). Perhaps someone should show her todays headline.
And Mike Shower (R-Wasilla) and Reinbold would also like you to know they are SICK of hearing about the disaster.
And remember last week when Wilson brought up in the Finance Committee that he wanted to add an amendment that none of this money could go to fund abortion, and Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) brought up the fact that: 1) There was already a provision that covered this and kept it from happening, and 2) the legislature’s own legal department said that it’s unconstitutional and that if it passes, the state will be sued (like it has many times before) and we’ll have to pay legal fees when we lose (which we’ve done many times before) and that could cost literally millions of dollars (which it has before).
Ever the Constitutional optimist, Wielechowski brought this up again and offered an amendment to remove it so that we wouldn’t have to break the state piggy bank to support the grandstanding habits of Republicans who swear to uphold the Constitution and then don’t.
[Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage)]
Majority Leader Shelley Hughes said that one option is “if a court ruling is wrong, don’t follow it.” This led to a visibly startled Wielechowski reminding everyone of some basics. “We are a nation of laws,” he said and then talked about Marbury v. Madison which determined in 1803 who gets the final say in these matters – the Supreme Court. “We all took an oath to uphold the Constitution. That is the society we live in. These are the rules. If we don’t follow them it leads to anarchy where society breaks down because you have individuals picking and choosing which laws they want to follow. We can disagree, and I respect that people do, but this is a clear-cut decision… It’s not even close.”
And behold the vote record indicating who the real Constitutional defenders are, and who’s like Eh… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The literal check will come due for this one down the road. I’ll keep you posted.
Eventually the amendments came to an end, and the bill finally passed, went back to the House, and was approved in its final form.
Here’s what it does:
Protects $8 million in monthly federal food assistance to COVID-19 impacted Alaskans;
Ensures the state is eligible for future federal aid and reimbursement for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) costs;
Limits the governor’s ability to spend federal funds without legislative approval;
Continues the legal operation of off-site testing and vaccination sites and waivers to care for patients telephonically; and
Allows healthcare and mental health providers to ensure the delivery of telehealth services to Alaskans.
Who wouldn’t love that, right? Well, actually…
The NO votes turned help away, and they’re all up for reelection next year. Remember that. ^^
SPEAKING OF TURNING HELP AWAY
Kind of reminds one of the American Rescue Plan which gives Alaska tremendous financial relief in our time of need and NONE of our 3-member congressional delegation voted to do this. So all the assistance with vaccines, all the stimulus checks that were just sent out, and all the benefits bulleted above happened with literally no thanks to a single Republican.
Murkowski, Sullivan, and Young were all NO votes – voting to leave Alaskans high and dry with no help. Remember that too. Especially because two of those people are running for reelection next year. Yep, 87-year old Don Young wants two more years…
WEIRDEST AMENDMENT EVER
Put all those bizarre Republican amendments from the Disaster Extension aside for a second, because the Weirdest Amendment Ever award goes to … drumroll… Rep. David Eastman (R-Wasilla) for Amendment #1 on House Bill #5 which he proposed in the House State Affairs Committee.
HB5 is Rep. Geran Tarr’s (D-Anchorage) bill which you can read HERE. It seeks to do a number of things including tightening up and clarifying the definition of consent toaddress inducing someone into sex through deception. Before the amendments were considered, Tarr reminded the group of the severity of the crimes they were considering.
And here’s where it gets goofy, so stay with me. Rep. Eastman proposed an amendment to the definition which would expand the “marriage defense” (it can’t be rape because we’re married) to include this “rape by fraud” provision in which the offender (the spouse) misrepresents their physical identity in order to gain consent from the victim (the other spouse).
I’ll give you a minute.
Chair Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins asked Eastman if he could provide an example of a scenario which might justify the exemption of married people from the crime of rape by fraud.
Eastman offered this. “If the spouse is thinking that their partner is having an affair and as part of catching their partner in the act they switch places so the spouse thinks they are the person they’re having an affair with.” He said the first thing he thought of when reading the amendment was Shakespeare’s 1623 comedy, All’s Well that Ends Well. He then gave a synopsis of the Bard’s famous ‘switcheroo’ play. “The moral of the story is that it all works out in the end, but we just can’t even conceive of all the many situations this could be used against an innocent spouse.”
No, we cannot.
“Maybe it’s just a wife trying to sort things out in a marriage with her husband. If at the end of sorting it out, now she’s got to deal with the criminal charge of rape for having slept with her husband, that’s wrong.” He did not clarify how faking her identity to have non-consensual sex with her husband was “sorting things out.”
Kreiss-Tomkins, keeping a straight face, asked John Skidmore of the Department of Law if this situation had ever arisen in real life.
Skidmore: “In my 22 years of experience I never encountered such a case… The legal analysis I look at is that he is proposing a spouse has sex with another spouse believing the other spouse is a third person and would not have had sex with their actual spouse… If we can strain hypotheticals, the question that you all would have to answer is why would you be interested in passing a law that protects an individual who can only have sexual relations with another person by tricking them?”
Skidmore went on to try to imagine a “Mission Impossible mask scenario” and said he found it implausible that you could somehow trick the person you are the most intimate with into believing you are another person. And that no matter how much he wishes he could make himself look like Brad Pitt, there’s “no way in hell I could make myself look like Brad Pitt” and that his wife would not be fooled.
I can’t synopsize the entire thing because it went back and forth for almost half an hour with “what if” this, or “suppose” that. If you want to witness it for yourself, Eastman introduces the amendment at 1:20:00 HERE. I recommend a beverage and a snack while you watch.
Unsurprisingly, Eastman was the only member to vote yes. Reps. Claman, Story, Kreiss-Tomkins, Kaufman, Tarr and Vance all voted no. And the amendment died.
All’s Well That Ends Well, you might say.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH SB39
Well, it’s been a week now, and we’ve sorted through the tangle of Sen. Mike Shower’s (R-Wasilla) voter suppression bill, and learned how it’s still awful, despite a couple improvements.
The bill has moved forward to the Senate Judiciary Committe (formerly chaired by Lora Reinbold, now chaired by Roger Holland), and scheduled for public testimony on Saturday, May 8. So, mark your calendar and take a few minutes from your weekend to make a call for voting rights.
All you will have to do is call:
In Juneau – 907-586-9085 In Anchorage – 907-563-9085 Anywhere else in the state – 844-586-9085
Say you’re there to testify on Senate Bill 39, and when your time comes say who you are, where you’re from, and speak your piece (you can be brief).
Or you can send an email to the Senate Judiciary committee with your thoughts at Senate.Judiciary@akleg.gov. It doesn’t take many emails to get their attention. Always use your own words, but here are some of the things we don’t like about it.
1) It creates new election crimes, including crimes around helping elderly, sick, or disabled people to turn in ballots. How does threatening people with JAIL for helping others create a welcoming environment to exercise your right to vote? Come to think of it, wasn’t there a time in the not so distant past in this country when law enforcement officers stood outside polling places in Black neighborhoods? Is this somewhere we really want to go again?
2) It shortens the time to request absentee ballots AND the time to receive them. How does making it harder to vote support democracy. The idea is to allow as many people to legally vote as possible. People love voting by mail, but this is Alaska and sometimes we need a little extra mail time – both ways – especially in rural areas. Closing down an increasingly popular way to vote doesn’t make a better election, it just makes a smaller one.
3) Ballots don’t get counted if a voter could use “digital multi-factor authentication,” but didn’t. Digital multi-factor authentication is like when an entity sends a code to your cell phone and you have to enter that code into a form. So it not only creates a hurdle, but technical difficulties would literally stop you from voting. The internet was down in a large swath of Southeast (including the capital) for the whole day yesterday because of a broken undersea fiber optic cable, FYI. Again, it’s Alaska and stuff happens. “Digital multi-factor authentication” is a solution for a non-existent problem, and puts legitimate votes in peril.
I’m not saying it was sharks, but… I’m not saying it COULDN’T have been sharks.
4) It uses “blockchain voting.” What the heck is “block chain voting” you ask? Exactly. This is a new and largely unproven method of tracking votes, and here’s the kicker. It will reveal people’s votes if the voter ID list can be matched with names, since the blockchain is public.
5) A hunting or fishing license will no longer be an acceptable ID to vote in Alaska. In ALASKA. This writer may or may not have used a fishing license as acceptable proof of ID in a bar at some point. That includes for rural residents who may not have other forms of ID, and a permanent license that a service-disabled veteran can get. Mike Shower just stood on the floor of the Senate TODAY saying that any little thing we can do to make vets’ lives easier should be done. Except his own bill I guess…
REINBOLD IN THE NATIONAL NEWS
Alaska Republican legislators’ idiocy once again makes the national news. Last time it was Rep. Ben Carpenter saying that getting covid tested was like wearing a yellow star and Hitler was just “misunderstood.”
Now it’s the fact that Lora Reinbold has been banned from Alaska Airlines for her continual belligerence, intimidation, and defiance of masking rules. Let it be said that the Republican Senate Majority could take a page from Alaska Airlines’ playbook because they dealt with Reinbold better than her own caucus.
Ironically, Reinbold (having no other commercial airline options) had to take… THE FERRY. Yes, the ferry that she’s been voting to defund for years. Suddenly she has “an appreciation” for it. Add it to the long line of Republicans who have to have it happen to THEM before they care.
MORE BILLS TO WATCH!
Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson (D-Anchorage) has proposed a slate of six bills that address policing in Alaska. She’s met with top law enforcement people, and crafted some thoughtful legislation. Keep you eye on these bills, and we’ll let you know when you’ll have a chance to offer public comment.
LESS THAN TWO WEEKS LEFT!
You’ve got less than two weeks if you are in the Anchorage Municipality to get your mayoral ballot back in the mail or deposit it in a drop box. We’ve been giving you lots of reasons to vote for Forrest Dunbar and lots of reasons NOT to vote for Dave Bronson, but here’s another that just surfaced today on TikTok, after a recent debate.
Yes. He said, “IF THERE WAS A PANDEMIC.” I’m starting to wonder if this guy should even be flying planes, never mind being the actual mayor of Alaska’s biggest city. So get those ballots in the mail NOW because the small but determined group of Bronson fans are ALL getting out there to vote. Don’t let the minority rule the city for the next three years. Bug your friends, go to the post office and watch them stamp your ballot, put it in a drop box. but DO IT. Questions? Call the voter hotline at 907-243-VOTE.
It took two weeks, but at last we have the final numbers in Alaska’s 2020 election!
We can officially say that in 2020, Alaska had more voters turn out than in any other election ever. That’s something!
It’s also worthy of note that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won in Anchorage, and performed better statewide than any presidential ticket since Lyndon Johnson! That means Democrats were motivated, showed up, and are a larger force in the state than ever before. The final was 42.8 Biden/Harris to 52.8 Trump/Pence. The state we match most closely with is Iowa, which went 44 Biden/Harris and 53 Trump/Pence. So chin up – at least we’re not like Wyoming that went for Trump by 69.9%! That almost makes us feel like a swing state!
Our two endorsed federal candidates, Dr. Al Gross and Alyse Galvin weren’t able to cross the line this time, but they came within striking distance and each mobilized an impressive army of volunteers and a strong ground game. We thank them both for running grueling campaigns that both had a real shot. But Dan Sullivan and Don Young are each in it for another term, both with about 54% of the vote. Don Young will be heading back to the minority party in DC, and depending on the outcome of the two Georgia Senate races in January, Dan Sullivan could too. The fate of the Senate remains in the balance, so don’t worry that you’ll run out of political drama any time soon.
In a year which turned out to be tough on Democrats in state legislatures across the country, we’re proud that Alaska totally bucked that trend. We not only kept all of our Senate seats, we took two additional House seats which had been Republican strongholds for may years! So enjoy a toast, a pat on the back, and a sigh of relief. We couldn’t have done it without your donations, volunteer time, GOTV efforts, and willingness to support our fine candidates.
The makeup of the Alaska State Senate has remained status quo with 13 Republicans and 7 Democrats, but there were a few big changes in personnel. Republican Robb Meyers will take over for long-standing North Pole Republican John Coghill, and Republican Roger Holland has won Senate President Cathy Giessel’s seat in South Anchorage. Both Meyers and Holland have never held elected office before and neither has a political background. Their budget philosophies range from “I’m going to do whatever Donna Arduin tells me to do because I’ve never thought about this stuff before,” to “No biggie, just smash the piggy bank, it’ll be fine!” – so we’ll see how THAT goes.
This is the second cycle in which a sitting Senate President has been ousted from the legislature. Last time it was Democrat Scott Kawasaki who flipped the seat and knocked off Republican Pete Kelly in Fairbanks. This time it’s Giessel, who inarguably ran a tight ship at the dais, who has been retired. Given the insertion of inexperienced far-right Senators into the mix, there’s some talk about whether the Senate will organize itself into a coalition-style configuration (a caucus of D’s, and moderate R’s one one side, and a caucus of far-right hardliners on the other), or whether the remaining Republicans will take the newcomers into the fold, forming an all-Republican caucus, and hoping it all doesn’t go off the rails.
Our incumbent Democratic Senators, Bill Wielechowski in East Anchorage, and Donny Olson in Golovin both easily defeated Republican challengers, once again showing that their districts are happy with the representation they’re getting. Congratulations to them both!
Democratic Senate candidate Carl Johnson made some serious inroads in the sprawling South and East Anchorage District N, and with its two House Districts, HD27 (just flipped to D) and 28 teetering on the edge, this seat is one to look to in the next cycle.
First thing to say about the House is congratulations to all our Democratic incumbents – whether they ran unopposed, or faced challengers, every single one of them will be going back to Juneau! [applause]
Not only that, we were able to pick up two seats – both in Anchorage! Calvin Schrage (a Democratically-endorsed non-partisan) clobbered incumbent Mel Gillis. Gillis, if you remember, was a big game guide picked by the Republican Party and appointed by Dunleavy to the position of ‘yes man’ during a seat shuffle prompted by the sudden passing of Sen. Chris Birch. Schrage’s aggressive ground game, ebullient spirit, and earnest motivation to improve the lives of those in his district made this one a no-brainer for the folks in House District 25. This seat has been red for DECADES, so we look at it as a sign of what’s to come for the future. (HINT: More blueness)
The other HUGE pickup is Dr. Liz Snyder who upset House Minority Leader, Lance Pruitt, in East Anchorage’s HD27 by a nail-biting16 votes. This district is the obligatory “Yes, Alaska, every vote matters” of the cycle. There’s always one… or two. Snyder ran last time, honed her campaign game, and came back strong to finish the deed. It often takes more than one swing of the axe to fell an incumbent, or flip a district. Snyder’s smarts and tenacity paid off, and she did both! The tiny margin of victory will trigger an automatic recount (paid for by the state) if Pruitt wants one, so expect to continue to watch this one play out.
And we can’t let this election pass without giving congratulations to Dan Ortiz (I) from Ketchikan who gave his Republican opponent, “Pastor Leslie” Becker the shellacking she deserved. [If you need a refresher, click HERE]
Just to show you the big trends and good things to come, a huge tip of the hat to three House races which were close, and we think are indicative of potential future pickups.
Democrat Lyn Franks came just 90 votes away from flipping House District 15 (Anchorage-Muldoon/JBER), which had been held for multiple terms by Republican Gabrielle LeDoux, but fell just a hair short. 2022 could be the charm!
Anchorage Assemblymember Suzanne LaFrance ran a great race and was just a few hundred votes from flipping HD28 in South Anchorage – another decades-long Republican stronghold.
And Democrat Elizabeth Ferguson came very close in HD40, which spans the NW Arctic and North Slope region.
In an interesting development, the Independent who won that race in HD40, Josiah Patkotak, says he’s not sure which side he’ll caucus with, but told Alaska Public Media that the Power Cost Equalization (PCE) program and petroleum property taxes are big issues for him . “Those are on the list of priorities. There are other things that I’m interested in looking out for, and I’m making sure those are involved in my decision making moving forward… Anybody that’s going to look at attacking programs or services that are going to affect my district negatively, that’s not something I’m going to be in favor of, obviously,” he said.
SPOILER: Republicans pretty much have PCE on the chopping block, and Dunleavy and his party are happily sponging up the property taxes from the pipeline that used to go to local communities, and squeezing them into the state’s coffers. So, things could get interesting when caucuses form. Republicans technically have the majority, but like last time, there will likely be moderates who’d much rather caucus with Democrats than hard-liners like David Eastman. So we could end up back like we were last session with a tri-partisan caucus vs. the far right. We likely won’t know how this all falls out for a while yet.
BALLOT MEASURE 1
Well, we tried. And being able to say, “I told you so” in a few months is going to be cold comfort. We’ve hit the end of the road and used up the $16 billion that the bipartisan coalition in the Senate saved up back in the day. Sean Parnell came along, and not only spent it down with the largest budgets in Alaska history, but also ushered in the infamous SB21 oil tax structure also called the “More Production Act.” Well, that ‘more production’ part didn’t happen, and we didn’t get new jobs, and we didn’t get more money – but they sure did. We tried to repeal it by ballot initiative back in 2013 but the oil companies spent millions in advertising and kept everything in place. And would the Republican-controlled legislature act to help us recoup our fair share? Nope. And did the people rise up and demand it with a win on Ballot Measure 1? Nope.
So here we are. Out of money and out of options. Be prepared for a smaller to no PFD, taxes of some sort, and services slashed even more. And a whole lot of “we told you so.”
BALLOT MEASURE 2
We didn’t endorse this one, but we didn’t oppose it. There’s a lot going on in there and we’re not sure how it will all play out. Alaska will be the guinea pig of elections going forward – with ranked choice voting, and a primary in which the top 4, regardless of party, will advance to the general election. The Governor and Lt. Governor will also be running on the same ticket instead of separately. We’re hoping for the best, but like everyone else, we’ll just have to see what happens.
Apparently, under pressure from the Republican base, Lt. Governor Kevin Meyer has announced that there will be a full hand-count of the entire state for Ballot Measure 2, “just to assure folks that you can trust the machines, that you can trust the outcome of the results that Division of Elections will soon certify,” he said. “I think some of the emotion and some of the concern may be caused from the national level.” In other words, Trump has his base hysterical and has blamed the Dominion voting machines (which Alaska now uses) for his loss to Joe Biden. Meyer said he has “received emails to that effect.”
Spot counts to double-check random precincts, and a successful and accurate primary in August did not assure the Trump people, apparently. And not that there’s anything wrong with a double-check hand count, but we have no idea how much it will cost, nor why Ballot Measure 2, which was vehemently opposed by the Republican Party, should be the thing that arouses concern. More to come on this one.
DOWN BALLOT WARRIORS
Words can’t express our gratitude to all the amazing candidates who stood up and put themselves in the thick of it, running campaigns, getting their messages out there and doing the hard work of running for office – some in close races, and some in extreme Republican strongholds where voters desperately need a choice. Our candidates and campaign staff were really incredible this cycle – a glut of riches. We truly hope they will stay involved in Democratic politics, run again, or work on other campaigns in the future.
Thank you to our endorsed candidates: Christopher Quist, Jeremiah Youmans, Julia Hnilicka, Bill Johnson, Alma Hartley, Monica Stein-Olson, Andrea Hackbarth, Lyn Franks, Stephen Trimble, Sue Levi, Suzanne LaFrance, and Elizabeth Ferguson in the House – and to Jim Cooper, Roselynn Cacy, Andy Holleman, and Carl Johnson in the Senate. You are all very much appreciated.
‘MASK TYRANNY’ AT 30,000 FEET
What’s another week without the science-denying covid-vector-wannabe, Sen. Lora Reinbold, making a giant fuss over having to wear a mask? This time, the object of her ire is Alaska Airlines. You may recall from her own previous FB posts, that she’s gotten out of the airline’s mask mandate before by saying that masks “made it hard for her to breathe” even though it wasn’t true. This time they didn’t let her get away with it, so she made a big long post and took a picture of the flight attendants who are just trying to do their jobs, and played the victim yet again.
For a supposed free market Republican, you’d think she’d be all about private companies making their own rules. And about not patronizing those companies if you don’t like their rules. The looks in the photo say it all. Reinbold hasn’t been banned from Alaska Airlines yet, but there’s a lot of time and a lot of flights back and forth to Juneau before session is over.
WORST FOR LAST
And finally, if you haven’t had a chance, stop right now and read this incredible article from Kyle Hopkins at the Anchorage Daily News, and ProPublica. He got to the bottom of the hideous coverup of the Attorney General’s harassment of a junior staffer in the Capitol. As will surprise no one, the timeline of events revealed that the Governor knew about it, his Chief of Staff Ben Stevens knew about it and told her to deny anything had happened if she was asked. The AG was given a month off and was scheduled to return to work like nothing had happened until the press began asking questions. Once the story broke, Clarkson quickly resigned. The State of Alaska owes a debt of gratitude to those who persisted asking questions and holding our leaders accountable.
THAT’S A WRAP!
With the exception of a potential recount of HD27, a hand recount of Ballot Measure 2, and the final certification, the election of 2020 is over. We’ve got 2 months to breathe before the 32nd legislature gavels in on January 19, 2021. Then it’s formulating caucuses, committee assignments, introduction of bills, and in December – the budget. Stay tuned.
This article is printed with permission of the Alaska Democratic Party