Friday in the Sun (Sept. 29): Health care, crimes and local elections

Friday in the Sun is here

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.)

For those fans who’ve wondered where Friday in the Sun is, I’m traveling (and will continue to be on the road for two more weeks). Just like the Steelers, it turns out that I’m not all that productive on the road.

Smooth moves Murkowski

Graham-Cassidy went down this week without the chance for Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski or Dan Sullivan to register an official position on the bill, but that hasn’t stopped speculation of what happened in those final hours.

Word is Murkowski may have delivered the killing blow to Graham-Cassidy, but this time without drawing the ire of President Trump.

Many senators hoped they could claw back Sen. Rand Paul into the fold, but before that could come to pass Murkowski quietly let her colleagues know that a vote would result in her no vote.

It’s not an entirely far-fetched story, and it connects the dots on some of the timing of the GOP leadership’s official abandonment of the proposal. Sen. Susan Collins said she’d vote against the bill Monday night, but the death certificate wasn’t issued until Tuesday.

Folks on the left may Murkowski never took a stand, but they are missing the cloak room drama that sealed Graham-Cassidy’s fate, and sidestepped a broadside from the Tweeter-in-Chief.

Either way, Murkowski today scored this selfie.

Local races

Did you know there’s a whole bunch of local elections on Tuesday of next week? It turns out it’s really hard to write a run down of all these races in an interesting blog format, so we’re picking out some of the more interesting races and situations that’ll be on the ballot next week.

Up in Fairbanks, conservatives are hoping to win back some seats on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly. The nine member body is filled with progressives and liberals thanks to years of smart campaigning going up against year after year of uninspiring candidates fielded by the conservatives. The big conservative candidates this time around are long-timer Hank Bartos and upstart Aaron Lojewski, who’s been scrappy in his (unsuccessful) bids to run for the House. Neither are super electrifying to the base, so we’d not be entirely surprised if the progressive streak continues.

Down in Mat-Su, Palmer City Council candidate Kenni Linden has come in the sights of pro-lifers the for once being a field organizer for Planned Parenthood. The Alaska Right to Life PAC has been circulating posters that warn, “Stop abortion chain, Planned Parenthood from invading Palmer City Council!” Supporters see it as a sign the conservatives are worried and taking her seriously. Linden also supports term limits, something that the incumbents (who’ve served 6 and 19 years on the council) might not like.

The Kenai Peninsula is home to one of the most interesting races of the season, where two traditional pro-business, chamber-crowd conservatives in Dale Bagley and Linda Hutchings are in the race with a Trump-style populist in Charlie Pierce. Even people who aren’t fans of Pierce admit he’s run an excellent campaign (despite a whisper campaign about his, ah, “colorful past”) and is likely to either win the race outright or head to a runoff election.

Reefer referendum madness

Commercial marijuana is on the ballot in three local municipalities: the city of Fairbanks, the Fairbanks North Star Borough (which if passed would ban it everywhere in the borough but the cities) and the Kenai Peninsula Borough (which wouldn’t affect the city of Soldotna).

Across the board, the opposition efforts have raised far more money than the supporters. But don’t count out the supporters, who’ve been spotted pitching the initiatives to church groups, which in Fairbanks at least were once a powerful voting machine.

Some of the highlights of the races have included Fairbanks anti-pot advocate and North Star Borough Assemblyman Lance Roberts (one of the last remaining conservatives on the borough assembly) getting “owned” by a group of high school students, as we reported last week.

Other things that have come across our radar is the letter Sen. Pete Kelly‘s legislative aide Joe Byrnes wrote to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner to warn about the dangers of ganja, and people had a field day in the comments. “You were literally wrong about everything marijuana related, you lost debate after debate, and finally you lost the election,” wrote one commenter.

We’re not expecting these initiatives to have a lot of success, but there’s always room for a surprise. A success here or there could also build the case to overturn the statewide law.

Taxes done locally

Aside from commercial pot, there are loads of municipalities considering putting in new taxes that in many cases are being pitched to make up for slashed state funding. You can thank your anti-tax legislators for that.

Permanent Fund frets

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation‘s analysts are now very publicly warning that the permanent fund draw envisioned by Gov. Bill Walker and the Legislature is no longer sustainable given changes in the market. Bummer.

The story by KTUU’s Austin Baird explains why this seemingly measly 0.25 percent difference matters:

“The shift from 5.25 percent to 5 percent may sound insignificant, but if a POMV plan were in place, the shift would represent a reduction in government revenue of approximately $90 million this fiscal year and nearly $100 million next fiscal year.”

It might explain why a permanent fund restructure isn’t on the table for the October special session.

Senate Bill 91

The much-maligned criminal justice reform bill is deep trouble, especially in Anchorage where legislators would love to talk about anything other than the fiscal situation, the permanent fund or new taxes (none of those things have anything to do with crime, right?). Just how much trouble has yet to be seen.

We’ll likely get a better sense of it at next week’s House interim hearing on criminal justice, which has been announced for Thursday, Oct. 5 at the Anchorage LIO. They’ve scheduled a solid four hours for the meeting, so expect it to be interesting.

The Anchorage Assembly plans to hold another public hearing on criminal justice sometime before the special session. Members were discussing a weekend meeting.

There’s been grumbling about the media coverage of the crime rates and the role that Senate Bill 91 has had on it. It’ll be interesting to see how much credence is given to the statements of Assemblymen Christopher Constant and Fred Dyson from today’s public testimony session, who said there needs to be some serious thought put to problems beyond Senate Bill 91 like slow police responses, cuts to prosecutors and treatment.

We’re also surprised that no one’s wondering if Senate Bill 91 had anything to do with the dead whale.

Media moves

In perhaps the least surprising, but heartening news out of the Alaska Dispatch News‘ round of layoffs next week is that media companies are already making calls hoping to scoop up the newly unemployed talent. We’ve heard of plenty of calls and preliminary talks, but there’s nothing to announce quite yet.

Following the filings

It’s been a busy week for political filings.

Scott Hawkins is in the race for governor as a Republican. He’s on the record as supporting some sort of restructure to the Alaska Permanent Fund, but takes issue with the scope of the cuts to the dividend. He’s got the outsider to the Legislature thing going for him, but being on the record for the permanent fund restructure could undercut what Republicans feel is their best line of attack on Walker.

Rebecca Logan of the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, a reliable conservative booster, has filed to run for Anchorage mayor opposite Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. There’s been plenty of discussion about how her entrance could shake up the race, and some think it’ll generally help Berkowitz because it’ll encourage any moderate considering joining the race sit out.

Logan’s likely to strike a tough-on-crime stance for the election. She was spotted at Sen. Mia Costello‘s roll out of the Senate Bill 91 repeal last week.

Reps. David Guttenberg and Colleen Sullivan-Leonard both filed letters of intent to run for reelection.

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