Speculating on rumors and gossip surrounding Alaska politics is a time-honored tradition. It’s time for our weekly trip through the grand, gross, weird, wild and wonderful world of Alaska politics. (Also if you feel like you have something good, you can always shoot me a tip via email at matt at midnightsunak dot com.)
Who knows what’s going on with the October special session at this point. There’s been rumors that talks between Gov. Bill Walker, the House and the Senate have been less than productive on coming to some sort of consensus on revenue measures and no one wants to go down without a plan.
We might get more answers later today at Walker’s news conference that was announced late Thursday afternoon (which your humble Midnight Sun editor will not be able to cover live thanks to a lucky draw on the Denali National Park road lottery).
There’s been talk from some that the special session may be canceled altogether, but the inclusion of some interesting guests—Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan and Corrections Commissioner Dean Williams—suggests something else is afoot. Newly minted Revenue Commissioner Sheldon Fisher is not scheduled to make an appearance.
Long story short, expect Senate Bill 54 to be added to the special session call tomorrow. It’s essentially a roll back of some parts of Senate Bill 91, the criminal justice reform legislation passed in 2016 and alleged cause of a rise in crime that began to climb years earlier (The first parts of the bill only went into effect in July 2016 with the rest going into place this year so take any claims that SB91 is to blame for the 2016 crime statistics with a lump of salt).
The key piece of Senate Bill 54 is that it would restore the potential for jail time on Class C felonies. It’d give sentencing guidelines of between 0 and 18 months, while Senate Bill 91 removed jail time in favor of focusing on rehabilitation that has yet to really go into place.
Your humble editor would suggest the spike in crime more closely linked to an understaffed Department of Law that stopped prosecuting a third of all misdemeanor cases since 2013 and a rise in opioid abuse, but those are expensive, complicated problems without an easy answer.
More jail time it is.
It’s only about $150 a day to keep someone behind bars.
The fun is over
In an astounding case of playing by the technical letter of the law instead of the spirit—and according to nearly everyone you ask also the letter—of the law, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board largely undid the distillery tasting rooms created in House Bill 309. House Majority Leader Chris Tuck’s bill passed in 2014 sought to allow distilleries to act and operate like brewery tasting rooms. You’d think that would include cocktails (as distilleries around the state have done since it went into effect), but you’d be dead wrong according to an advisory opinion by the new ABC Director Erika McConnell.
They ruled that language in the bill that allow direct sales of a “distillery’s product” bars anything not produced onsite. The board agreed.
That’s despite letters from Tuck, letters from distilleries and even a picture of Tuck proudly holding up some orange juice at Port Chilkoot Distillery in an announcement of the bill signing.
These distilleries have popped up throughout the state thanks to the change in the law, mirroring the popularity of breweries with tasting rooms like Fairbanks’ HooDoo Brewing or Anchorages’ Double Shovel Cider. In Juneau there’s Amalga Distillery and Haines’ Port Chilkoot Distillery.
Perhaps it was making bars (that don’t have drink limits) upset at lost business and after all the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is housed in the Department of Commerce, not the Department of Public Safety anymore. The documents say the change was prompted by a complaint that a distillery was offering entertainment and mixed cocktails.
Perhaps, the governor would be wise to add a fix to the special session call.
Grieve with gusto
After getting caught lying about Gov. Bill Walker’s 9/11 proclamation, the party did its best to spin it into something else. The most puzzling response, though, when confronted with our fact check on the issue that flatly found they were wrong to claim Walker nixed “Patriot” from Patriot Day was this cringe-worthy post.
Perhaps the party thought better of calling for gusto on the deadliest foreign attack on American soil because the comment was deleted shortly thereafter. Nobody knew politicizing 9/11 could be so complicated.
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz found the humility to apologize about his bone-headed comments about crime, but it’s probably asking too much from a group focused so single mindedly on the 2018 elections.
Hughes meets with Republicans
Though Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes‘ trip to Alaska this week riled up conservatives not every Republican got the memo. Hughes reportedly met up with stalwart PFD defender Sen. Mike Dunleavy at the Beartooth down in Anchorage on Thursday night. Hughes is up as part of a growing movement to explore the possibility of universal basic income, and Alaska’s dividend has been a favorite for that crowd—which includes Mark Zuckerberg and Hillary Clinton—to research.
The University of Alaska Board of Regents unanimously approved a performance bonus for University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen at its board meeting down in Juneau yesterday. The bonus is $25,000 of a maximum $50,000. Johnsen, who this week called on Congress to support a fix for DACA, told the board he’ll be donating the bonus to the Troth Yeddha’ Alaska Native Language Center, the Ted Stevens Legislative Internship Program and a “student leadership development initiative that’s still in planning stages.”
APRN disappears from Fairbanks
Thanks to university budget cuts, the University of Alaska Fairbanks-based KUAC announced the end of content shared through the Alaska Public Radio Network. That means Interior residents will no longer hear “Talk of Alaska,” “Alaska News Nightly” and the “Alaska Economic Report” and all other APRN products. They’ll be replaced with national or international programs.
This isn’t the first time the station, which has seen some pretty serious budget cuts in recent years, has lost statewide Alaska coverage. It set up a partnership with the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner to create an afternoon newscast with local and statewide content from Alaska’s last remaining daily newspaper.
While the Legislature as a whole may have waning support for the university, at least one legislator is still by its side. Rep. Adam Wool’s Blue Loon is the September sponsor of KUAC.
Follow the filings
There was plenty of action this week among the GOP candidates for governor. Sen. Mike Dunleavy put the brakes on his campaign to deal with a health issue at the same time former Senate President Charlie Huggins announced his candidacy.
House Speaker Mike Chenault also used that day to tease a run for governor by filing an open letter of intent with APOC. He also sent out a news release saying he’s just thinking about it for the time being. At least one group has conducted polling on Chenault as a candidate against Walker and Begich in the general election, but that group didn’t ask about Huggins.
There are still plenty of Republican businessmen in the wings that could also announce bids. At least it’s making for an interesting primary.
On less exciting notes for next year, Reps. Neal Foster and Andy Josephson have filed letters of intent to run for reelection.
Perennial Anchorage conservative candidate David Nees has also filed to run for the Anchorage school board.