Speculating on rumors and gossip surrounding Alaska politics is a time-honored tradition best done with a heaping helping of salt. It’s time for our weekly trip through the grand, gross (mostly gross), weird, wild and wonderful world of Alaska politics.
You can always get a hold of me with something interesting via email at matt [at] midnightsunak [dot] com.
Sen. David Wilson‘s news conference on Thursday was, well, interesting. He said he was cleared of all wrongdoing based on a report that he hasn’t personally seen, called for the resignation of House leadership and accused everyone else of playing politics with the situation. There’s a lot from that half-hour presser that raises eyebrows and doesn’t really align with prior accounts of the incident (even his own). We’ll break down a few of the points that people are talking about.
- Wilson was apparently told by the Senate leadership to not hold the news conference. It appears that no press office staff was working with him. It might get him into hot water.
- House Speaker Bryce Edgmon suggested as much in a statement firing back, saying “Senator Wilson crossed the line of appropriate behavior by using a press conference to chastise individuals who came forward as witnesses to an alleged incident of harassment. I believe this is a violation of the legislature’s harassment policy and warrants a serious investigation by the Senate.”
- We wouldn’t be surprised if Wilson—or more realistically Senate President Pete Kelly because he’s the only one we know has seen the report—is cherry picking from the report. Something to keep in mind is that sexual harassment has a very specific legal definition. It’s our thinking that whatever did transpire between Wilson and the legislative aide didn’t meet that strict threshold. It doesn’t mean that nothing happened.
- Which would explain some of the selective language Wilson used during the news conference. There was no explicit denial at the news conference, just a “I’m on the record as saying, ‘No that never occurred.’” It’s similar to the answer he gave for when he asked if he slapped ADN reporter Nat Herz: “All I can say at this time is I did not assault him.” We guess it all depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.
- His story has changed on why he was down at the end of the hallway around the House chambers. He initially claimed he heard some loud music, but yesterday he said he was looking for a big cup. Why?
- The claim that House Speaker Bryce Edgmon used racially loaded language seems pretty bogus. Wilson said Senate leadership told him that someone from the House said Wilson should “hang and burn.” That wouldn’t stand up in court. Whoever heard that ought to come forward and put some credibility to the claim. Edgmon also responded to that attack: “I also feel the need to respond to a remark Senator Wilson attributed to me. I did not, at any point, express a desire to let Senator Wilson ‘hang and burn’, which he claims originated from a conversation he had with Senate leadership. I find that term highly offensive and derogatory and I would never say that. I don’t begrudge Senator Wilson for wanting to clear his name and reputation, but the way he chose to conduct himself today was unfortunate.”
- Don’t expect to ever see the tape released through official channels, and we’re not holding our breath for the report to be released either.
- Also isn’t it odd that none of this has appeared in the Anchorage Daily News? But, hey, probably nothing to see here. (Update: The paper has since published a thorough report on accusations against Rep. Dean Westlake.)
Rep. Dean Westlake responded on Thursday about unwanted and inappropriate advances he allegedly made toward a former legislative aide during the session with the disappointing non-apology apology, “I sincerely apologize if an encounter with me has made anyone uncomfortable. That has certainly never been my intent.” Still, it’s more than Wilson could muster.
The resignation of Rep. John Conyers this week gave Alaska’s Don Young the title of longest-serving current member of the U.S. House of Representatives. We wanted to come up with a list of our “favorite” Don Young moments, but the list was filled with slurs, ill-advised advice to students and violence both real and rumored.
So instead, here’s what a friend of the blog had to say about Young’s first election.
“Wally Hickel planned to run for governor after getting fired by Nixon. He wanted an Interior running mate, so Bob Atwood suggested Don Young from Fort Yukon as someone who could gain name recognition by losing to Nick Begich and then running as Wally’s running mate afterward. Begich crashes. Don still loses, but he’s in position to win the upcoming special election. Atwood and company ask him to step aside because the congressional seat is now open. Don says fuck off, and the rest is history.”
Republican gubernatorial races
It sounds like not all’s well in the realm of Republicans running for governor. We’ve heard at least two candidates–former Sen. Charlie Huggins and Rep. Mike Chenault–are underperforming in terms of fundraising. Word is Chenault, who’s still technically in the exploratory stages of his run, might pull up stakes and refocus his efforts on running for reelection. It’s not altogether that surprising of an outcome for the former legislators. We haven’t seen a whole lot of statewide enthusiasm for any legislators in recent years. Could it have something to do with the interminable, unproductive legislative sessions?
We’ve also heard that our favorite candidate to speculate about—John Binkley—won’t be running.
Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Karl Kassel announced this week that he won’t be running for re-election in 2018. The well-liked former assemblyman and director of Parks and Recreation cited “personal reasons” for his departure, which is the sort of reason that always piques the interest of a political blogger. But from what we’ve heard Kassel really is leaving for personal reasons, with his health being a concern.
Kassel has had an interesting political career in the Interior. In 2008 he ran against Rep. Mike Kelly for House District 7 and lost by four votes. His 2015 election to the mayor’s office pitted him against North Pole Rep. Tammie Wilson. He won that race by a landslide with a 20 percentage point lead over the Republican legislator.
Forgey back in print
We noticed former legislative reporter Pat Forgey‘s byline is back in the Juneau Empire this week. It appears he’s on as a freelance reporter, and word is he could be back helping cover the Legislature in at least some capacity. That’s good news as the number of experienced political reporters is fast dwindling. He also has a knack for making legislators nervous, which is always a good thing.
Renée Limoge Reeve is now U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s state director based out of Anchorage. Reeve formerly worked as the deputy director over at the Alaska Support Industry Alliance and was also the treasurer for the pro-industry group “We Are Alaska” up until Wednesday of this week.
Former Sullivan Chief of Staff Joe Balash‘s appointment as the secretary for land and minerals management was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday.