Friday in the Sun (Oct. 6): Crime is still too high edition

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. And, as always, best taken with a heaping load of salt. (Also if you feel like you have something good, you can always shoot me a tip via email at matt at midnightsunak dot com.)

(Also for those of you wondering, your hobbled editor appears to just have a badly sprained his knee while travelling for a wedding. It’s made this mini vacation, which was to include hiking and a foot race, a little more difficult.)

Crime time

Four finance subcommittees in the House held back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings on Thursday (we’ll have more on this soon) in preparation for the special session on criminal justice reform (the revenue measures seem like a distance shot at this point, according to most sources). The committee was called by the House Majority (specifically Reps. Jason Grenn and Scott Kawasaki) to get a status update from the agencies dealing with crime and how Senate Bill 91 is impacting them.

The 2016 criminal justice reform bill has become easy target to explain away all the problems with crime so far, but if legislators were expecting the criminal justice system to agree with them, providing cover for a hard-line push back on criminal justice they came away disappointed. The takeaway from the meeting is, surprise, the rise in crime is a lot more complicated, opioid-driven and budget-related than most legislators would like to have the electorate think.

Here’s some of the highlights from the meeting:

  • Cuts to prosecutors have caused a third of misdemeanors to go unprosecuted since 2013. The number is just 3 percent for felonies, but Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said that may be changing. “The declination rate for felonies is going up because that’s where we are,” she said, explaining the state could use five or six more prosecutors this year and next. “If we had that many prosecutors we’d have that much more crime being prosecuted.”
  • There’s little resources, training and retention for VPSOs, but legislators are still interested in moving money around. Program coordinator Capt. Andrew Merrill told the committee that one VPSO doesn’t have heating or insulation at his village office so he’s forced to take perps and handcuff them to a chair in his home. You’d think that’d raise some alarms, but true to form the follow-up question from Rep. Charisse Millett was “Is SB91 helping your job or hurting your job?”
  • Crime trends aren’t equal across the state, according to the analysis by the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Kenai is seeing a spike in shoplifting, Anchorage is seeing a spike in auto thefts and burglary is up in Juneau.
  • Public defenders have to work 88 hours per week to handle the current caseload. Rep. Dan Saddler asked isn’t that sort of 12.5-hour, 7-day-a-week workload normal for young attorneys.

Taken in total, the fervor against Senate Bill 91, whipped up by certain legislators, is easier to understand. Sure, there are problems with the state criminal justice law, but they appear to be nowhere as significant to the problem as the deep cuts made to public safety budgets under those very legislators (some of whom couldn’t be bothered to stay the whole meeting, either).

The question moving forward, and by all accounts is the question on the top of mind for legislative leadership, is what can be done that will make an actual difference. There’s a real problem that needs real solutions.

But don’t expect the reasonable approach to criminal justice to last. The Anchorage Assembly has scheduled an unusual Saturday session to hear from the public on Senate Bill 91. It’s 9 a.m. Saturday at the Loussac Library.

Also word is Grover Norquist (of anti-tax fame) told the Commonwealth North this morning that a straight up repeal of Senate Bill 91 is a bad idea.

Race rumors

The latest entrant into the rumor mill of potential Republican gubernatorial candidates is former Anchorage Mayor Rick Mystrom. Mystrom hasn’t been super active in politics as of recent (he’s been writing well-reviewed books about living with Type 1 diabetes), but he did beat the Republican’s favorite boogeyman, Mark Begich, for Anchorage mayor in 1994 (and Begich beat Mystrom for mayor in 2003).

Other Republican candidates/potential candidates Scott Hawkins and Bob Gillam reportedly shared a table at a gala hosted at the Anchorage Museum over the weekend. It looked awkward, according to our tipster, and both men reportedly left before the auction began, with Gillam leaving first.

And, of course, Begich was reported to be at the event. He stayed for the auction, where he took some art home.

Jury duty

Word is Assistant Senate Secretary Brian O’Sullivan is in the jury pool for the Juneau murder trial of Christopher D. Strawn, who’s accused of killing Brandon Cook in 2015. Jury selection is still ongoing and O’Sullivan was one of the first interviewed for the selection.

Local elections

Did you know there were a bunch of local elections on Tuesday? Yeah, none of them were in Anchorage. The headlines from the day were resounding defeats for a slew of anti-marijuana propositions in Fairbanks and the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Tokers can breath easy.

Other highlights include the set up of a runoff election for Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor between Trump-style Charlie Pierce and Chamber-conservative-style Linda Hutchings on Oct. 24. Though Pierce came in with the most votes, he fell about 11 points short of the majority needed to win the seat outright. We’ve been told that Hutchings’ politics are pretty similar to third-place finisher Dale Bagley. Together Hutchings and Bagley got about 60 percent of the vote.

Rob Edwardson, staffer to Rep. Justin Parish, is the newest member of the Juneau Assembly. With Jesse Kiehl, that makes two from the Alaska Legislature on the Juneau Assembly.

Speaking of the Legislature, it appears that Wasilla is more game than Fairbanks to make up for cuts. Wasilla voters approved a sales tax hike to pay for its police station, while Fairbanks decisively defeated a property tax hike intended to pay for public safety.

Follow the filings

Rep. Steve Thompson is the only major filing this week. He’s filed to run for reelection.

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