In place of this week’s roundup of rumors and gossip, we bring you the first-ever Friday in the Sun Naughty or Nice List recognizing those from the Alaska political world who’ve been some of the top heroes and jerks from 2017.
Did we leave anyone or anything out? Feel free to yell at us in the comments.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski in July – Facing incredible political pressure from all sides, Alaska’s senior senator ultimately did the right thing for Alaska when she opposed her party’s attempts to undo the Affordable Care Act. It’s clear that the program needs its fixes, but when her constituents told her that the GOP’s replacement wouldn’t work for Alaska for a whole litany of reasons, she listened.
Legislative Legal Services – There are many, many people working tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure the Alaska Legislature operates about as well as it can (it’s ultimately in the hands of legislators, after all), and no other group has put in more work this year than Legislative Legal Services. These are the folks who take the often-vague requests from legislators and draft them into actual, concrete bills and amendments. The crew has put in many all-nighters and all-weekenders to little recognition. We only wish legislators worked this hard.
Everyone who worked on the child welfare compact – Alaska Native groups and the state set aside decades of bad blood to work together on an unprecedented agreement that grants tribes and Alaska Native organizations greater say in handling child welfare cases throughout Alaska. The problems with Alaska’s child welfare program are deep and long-running, and legislative efforts to fix it have fallen flat. Their collaboration means Alaska could turn a new page in what has so far been a sad story.
The Gavel crew – Not only have the folks at 360 North provided essential coverage of the Alaska Legislature (making the job of a stay-at-home blogger all that much easier), they’ve also delighted viewers with an excellent soundtrack for the endless at eases and delayed meetings.
Randy Hoffbeck – This year we saw the departure of Department of Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck–and his glorious hair–to pursue his life’s calling in ministerial work. We always appreciated Hoffbeck’s tireless efforts to explain a complicated no-win solution to a complicated no-win situation.
Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Karl Kassel – Mayor Karl Kassel, like many other municipal leaders, has the unenviable task of translating the legislative inaction on the budget to real-world local impacts, and he’s done it with incredible clarity and care for the community. Legislators could learn a thing or two about legislating from Kassel. After winning his 2015 election by a 20-point margin, there will be plenty in Fairbanks who’ll be sad to see Kassel not return in 2018.
James Brooks – Mr. Brooks has brought Alaska some excellent reporting on the Legislature this year, but he’s also brought everyone plenty of cheer with his ridiculous, holiday-themed suits.
— Liz Raines (@lrainesktva) October 23, 2017
Drew Phoenix – Drew Phoenix, a transgender man, was one of Gov. Bill Walker’s picks for the Human Rights Commission, but was turned down by the Legislature in a vote that put on display just how real Alaska’s culture wars still are. While he was being dragged through the mud, Phoenix did the right thing by focusing on doing what work he could do during his limited time in the position.
Sen. Shelley Hughes – The Palmer Republican learned this year that she has breast cancer, but that hasn’t stopped Sen. Shelley Hughes from continuing to fight for and represent her constituents. We’ve always appreciated her dedication to connecting to her constituents through regular Facebook Live updates, which have provided her constituents with a direct connection to Juneau that many others just don’t have.
Per Diem Deniers – Plenty of legislators racked up huge per diem payouts and travel expenses during the session and special sessions. We commend the handful of legislators who decided to take a stand and go without per diem.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski in December – Sure, Murkowski and the congressional delegation brought home ANWR, but at what cost? The hastily rushed tax bill undermines the Affordable Care Act, while putting a vast amount of the $1.5 trillion of deficit spending into the pockets of the rich and big corporations. It was also apparently more important than fixing the Affordable Care Act with bipartisan legislation, renewing the Children’s Health Insurance Program or finding a solution for “Dreamers” before the end of the year. For Murkowski’s part, the good will that was hard-earned with her votes on the Affordable Care Act is mostly up in smoke, but at least there’s ANWR. Too bad that the majority of the folks who’ll be working in the 1002 region won’t benefit from the tax bill because most of the working-class tax breaks expire in a decade. Luckily, Republicans made the corporate tax rate permanent so at least the oil companies will benefit.
The Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office – There’s no bigger Grinch in Alaska than the AMCO office. First the agency went for distilleries’ mixers, then it went for the ‘fun’ at breweries and now it’s taking away marijuana edibles that are many times over the legal limit for potency. OK, maybe the last one is justified, but the rest of it has been a frustrating and mind-boggling effort at ginning up legal interpretations that seem to be divorced from reality. Some legislators have pledged a fix, but we’re not holding our breath.
The whole repeal SB91 movement – Alaska passed landmark legislation in 2016 to overhaul Alaska’s criminal justice system with smart, evidence-based efforts to curb crime and reduce the prison population. All of that nearly went up in smoke this year as legislators scrambled over each other to be tough on crime and set their sights on an easy scapegoat. Forget the real contributors to crime (like a downturn in the economy, a spike in drug use or understaffed prosecutors and law enforcement) that require complex, expensive solutions because everything will be better with a change in law, they say while eyeing the 2018 elections. (Honorable mention: Sen. John Coghill, the sponsor of Senate Bill 91, who eventually caved to pressure and cast the deciding vote to concur with the legally problematic Senate Bill 54.)
Alice Rogoff – The Alaska media landscape was rocked this year when the Alaska Dispatch News went bankrupt under the ownership of Alice Rogoff. Court documents and off-the-record accounts paint a pretty grim picture over the last year for the state’s largest news outlet. As well-intentioned as Rogoff was with her entrance into the Alaska media world, it appears Rogoff made just about every wrong decision along the way. Then after the Binkley family swooped in to buy the paper for a slim $1 million (the only buyer to materialize through the bankruptcy proceedings), Rogoff floated a conspiracy theory about GCI and the Binkley family conspiring against her. Kudos to the many reporters who continued to do good work through the difficult situation.
The Grenn Recall – The 2016 election still smarts for the Alaska Republican Party, which is still fuming about all these darned independents and bipartisan-minded Republicans who refuse to toe the party line. While the party’s foolhardy attempts at banning sitting legislators from participating in the Republican primaries should be near the top of this list, the honor will have to go to the laughable attempt to recall Rep. Jason Grenn by filing a recall petition with the Anchorage Municipal Clerk’s office. The small, Liz Vazquez-affiliated group accused Grenn of incompetence because he wasn’t voting the way they wanted. That’s not incompetence, but filing a recall petition with the wrong office is.
David Wilson – There are some notable omissions from this list because we felt some things are too serious for this silly list, but apparently, in the eyes of prosecutors and his Republican colleagues, nothing that Sen. David Wilson has done this year is all that serious. He’s slapped a reporter for doing his job, confronted a legislative aide for doing hers and attacked those who dared speak up about a possible instance of harassment capitol. He’s acted the victim the whole way through, refusing to acknowledge any wrongdoing.
Alaska Family Council – The group behind the efforts to reject Drew Phoenix from the Human Rights Council isn’t happy enough to have a culture war in the halls of the capitol, and is backing a bathroom initiative targeting transgender people in Anchorage.
House Majority’s budget shenanigans – There were plenty of low points during the interminable legislative session, but the lowest point had to be the House Majority’s decision to roll the operating budget and capital budget into one bill in an attempt to shove it through the process. To be honest, we can’t completely remember why anyone thought this was a good idea to start off with. It wasn’t quite as bad as Pearl Harbor (as Rep. Dan Saddler suggested), but it didn’t look great.
Rep. David Eastman – The freshman Republican representative has done and said plenty to deserve a lump of coal this year. Where to start? He accused women of getting pregnant so they could get late-term abortions in Seattle and go on shopping trips, he was the lone vote against a bill honoring African American soldiers’ efforts to build the Alaska Highway and, oh yeah, he’s been spotted flying first class a lot.
Blockers on social media – Attention turned to Alaska after the legality of President Trump’s Twitter blocking made headlines. Turns out there are plenty of Alaska politicians who’ve blocked regular folks on Twitter. Not cool. Also, doesn’t anyone know how the mute feature works? Look it up!