We’re into the final stretch of the regular session and, in the words of a friend, things have become particularly spicy in the halls of the Legislature. Bills are moving and maneuvering is underway, and that’s not to mention the big ol’ election in Anchorage this week.
It’s a perfect time to sit back, and take a stroll down the slush-on-hardpack alleyways of unsubstantiated Alaska political rumors and gossip. As always, you can reach your dear reclusive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Roll-the-Chair or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Uniform Rule 48
Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting came to an abrupt end when Sens. Mia Costello, Mike Shower and Bill Wielechowski rolled committee chair Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, on an amendment to a bill dealing with pretrial risk assessment and mandatory release. Here’s the scene from Gavel Alaska:
There’s a lot to unpack in that 30-second video, but what’s particularly interesting to watch is Costello’s reaction as Shower casts his vote in favor of the Wielechowski’s amendment, ensuring that they’ll roll Coghill and Senate President Pete Kelly. Whoops.
Coghill’s reaction is shocking, and a trip over to the longer video on the Alaska Legislature’s website shows Coghill and Kelly quickly leaving the room (though it’s not quite as much of a rush as others have described) as Costello, Shower and Wielechowski are left speechless.
Coghill’s reaction was stunning given how level-headed he is in just about every other walk of life as a politician and beyond, but then again this has been a particularly trying few years for the North Pole Republican. Since he’s not facing election this year, he’s also seemed to have drawn the short straw and shouldered much of the politically unsavory jobs this session: like explaining why the Senate doesn’t support putting the PFD in the constitution.
Still, it’s not the first time (or likely the last) that Coghill has had to stand back and watch the criminal justice reform that he championed be peeled back by his colleagues.
So what’s with the reaction?
Well, from what we’ve heard from a few sources is that it wasn’t the first time those three senators rolled Coghill that day.
So keep in mind that the Senate Judiciary Committee is home to Wielechowski’s Senate Joint Resolution 1 (the PFD-in-the-constitution amendment), Costello’s Senate Bill 127 (the one repealing Coghill’s Senate Bill 91) and House Bill 214, which would rename the part of the Alaska Safe Children’s Act after Bree Moore, the young woman who was murdered by her boyfriend. None have been heard in the committee (both SJR1 and HB214 got “do not pass” recommendations from Coghill in earlier committees).
As has been reported in other places, Moore’s parents–Butch and Cindy–have been lobbying for the HB 214 to get out of committee and things may have become so heated behind the scenes–we’ve heard suggestions that Costello could face a challenge by Cindy Moore in this year’s elections–that Coghill has said it basically amounts to bullying and political blackmail.
So it’s at this point that we’ll direct you, dear reader, to Rule 48 of the Legislature’s uniform rules.
Apparently, Butch Moore also found this rule and saw what it could do not only for for Bree’s Law, but also Senate Bill 127 and SJR1. With three signatures, he could force Coghill to hold hearings on bills that he’s so far refused to hear. Moore reportedly got those three senators to sign onto said letter, which was presented to Senate President Pete Kelly on Wednesday.
It didn’t go over well. The Senate broke for recess for a caucus meeting as rumors of “a mini mutiny” swirled in the Legislature.
When they returned, there was definitely the air of something going on–I’d suggest it was akin to being over at a friend’s house while their parents fight in another room–but there no mention of the letter. UPDATE: We’re not sure if there was an agreement reached or people backed down, but this meeting is now scheduled for Saturday.
The motion to hold the hearing was made on the Senate floor by Coghill during the Friday floor session (while we were writing this story) with no mention of the letter, catching us and probably everyone else a little off guard. It’s essentially calling bluff, giving the supporters of each bill exactly what they asked for (a bill hearing within three days) with exactly less than 24-hours notice to prepare.
Have an excellent Friday night and hope no one was planning trips home (oh, wait, Costello is excused for a trip home this weekend).
Gun violence bill a no-show
Speaking of judiciary committees, the House Judiciary Committee’s schedule for next week does not include House Bill 75, the gun violence protective order bill. It seems, for now, the NRA has won.
And speaking of political pressures that strike unreasonable fear in Republicans’ hearts (besides Mark Begich), the campaign against Kenni Linden’s appointment to the Board of Certified Direct-Entry Midwives is picking up steam on the back of what one insider describes as a “robo-email campaign.”
Linden is taking plenty of flak for her time as an employee of Planned Parenthood–during one confirmation hearing Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard suggested that Linden’s work history was incompatible with the work of midwives and she should look elsewhere. Forget the fact that Linden had her baby delivered by a midwife and was recommended by that midwife for the board.
The Legislature has a pretty dismal track record on candidates opposed by social conservatives. It’ll be a close one when the Legislature takes up confirmations on Tuesday (though it might be a good idea to keep in mind just how the latest socially conservative measure fared in Anchorage elections).
We’re not hearing much about major brewing fights over other appointments, but noticed that Mike Powers was quietly pulled from consideration for the Alaska Mental Health Trust Board of Trustees by Gov. Bill Walker this week. No word on why. (Update: It sounds like it has nothing to do with Powers’ as a person or his qualifications, but something to do with eligibility timing.)
Sparks in Alaska
Last week, we highlighted a story about how U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s 2014 campaign manager, Ben Sparks, was fired from his latest job amid a police investigation into a possible domestic violence claim. A follow-up story on Wednesday was published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal detailing how the behavior went well beyond what the original story might have suggested.
The new story details how Sparks allegedly “sexually enslaved and battered” his ex-fiancée after getting her to sign a five-page contract stating she would be his “slave and property” just a day after they started dating. The contract reportedly required a whole list of disturbing expectations that we’ll spare you for the time being.
An email with at least one reported text message exchange between Sparks and the woman made it to our inbox. We haven’t been able to independently confirm the veracity of those messages, but it aligns with the Review-Journal story.
Sparks worked on Sullivan’s 2014 campaign and later continued to work to influence Alaska politics as a representative for the Alaska’s Future campaign in 2015 and 2016.
We’ve heard a handful of different stories that would suggest his behavior may not have been isolated to the Lower 48.
That’s the number of ballots that the Anchorage election center has received so far, obliterating the previous turnout record for Alaska’s biggest city. The state’s first vote-by-mail election is a smashing success as long as you’re into higher turnout (not everyone is) and is all the ammunition you’d need to push for adoption of the vote-by-mail system elsewhere.
Rolling (doing great)
This week was a great week for progressive candidates and their causes in Anchorage’s elections, continuing the long-running trend of liberals winning on the local level in Alaska. We still wonder just how much of that is to credit the progressives and how much that is to credit the general ineptitude of conservatives’ ability to run local campaigns. With Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s 18.81-point lead over GOP-backed Rebecca Logan (who conceded last night), we imagine it’s a little bit of both.
While Democrats were celebrating the win, they should keep in mind that not every Democrat will enjoy the centrist business community support that Berkowitz did nor will they always be running against a candidate with a messy legal past.
Is the “Blue Wave” crashing onto Alaska’s shores? Probably, but don’t be surprised if it’s more more of a “Blue Tide.”
Also, Anchorage’s mayoral race isn’t affected by redistricting. Legislative races are.
Another mayoral race
Speaking of mayoral races, the Fairbanks North Star Borough is set to have an open election for mayor this fall after Mayor Karl Kassel announced plans to step aside after one term.
Still, the only candidate anyone’s talking about is North Pole Mayor Bryce Ward. He’s a professional, likeable centrist conservative who’s appreciated by the business crowd and respected on both sides of the political spectrum (think a Berkowitz but conservative, a lot younger and more likely to appear at an official event in Carhartts).
Anyways, everyone including myself is wondering who might challenge Ward and the best I’ve heard so far is “I don’t know, but whoever it is will get crushed by Bryce.” Another political watcher in Fairbanks tells me that being mayor of the borough is the worst job out there.
Congratulations to Jeff Landfield and the Alaska Landmine for an excellent and, most importantly, entertaining live stream coverage of the Anchorage elections with panelists Joelle Hall and Casey Reynolds. They even snagged an appearance by Mark Begich, who gave a ringing endorsement of the vote-by-mail system and said he hasn’t voted on election day in more than a decade.
Rep. Lora Reinbold and Rep. Matt Claman haven’t got along all that well during House Judiciary Committee meetings this session. The committee has been highlighted Reinbold’s inflammatory, often-derailing statements (all of which has somehow made Rep. David Eastman, who’s also on the committee, seem eminently reasonable) and Claman’s exasperated sighs.
Reinbold took it all to another level this week when she attacked Claman, accusing him of refusing to hear her bill that would repeal Senate Bill 91, adding in a dash of inflammatory conspiracy to top it off.
The only problem is that House Bill 254 is in the House State Affairs Committee.
‘A thousand dollar fine!’
Incivility isn’t limited to just legislators. There was also this hearing that was caught by friend-of-the-blog twitterer @WillMuldoon:
“Will, did you watch any of #akleg today?”
“Very little of today. Maybe a few minutes of SFIN”
“Workload primarily… also I’m still processing how nothing will ever top this public testimony from yesterday: THERES A THOUSAND DOLLAR FINE!” pic.twitter.com/WyT7rD67Ao
— will muldoon (@WillMuldoon) April 6, 2018
Johnny Ellis unchained
Cry me a river, Iowa farmers. You helped give us Stormy Trump so now his trade war w China will screw you badly. You elected The self described pig castrator Jodi Ernst & delusional bumbler Chuck Grassley who called Trump the best Pres ever ! Crocodile tears, Iowa.
— Johnny Ellis (@SenJohnnyEllis) April 5, 2018
That’s how much the BP has put into an independent expenditure group opposing the Stand for Salmon Initiative, according to the latest APOC report.
Officially nothing happened over the last weekend in Juneau, and we’re definitely not stoked that some of our stupid jokes may have worked their way into whatever didn’t happen (FINALLY). Also, based on what we heard may have happened on a dance floor is maybe part of the reason why we’re happy to report on from the Legislature from the safety of our couch.
Dermot back in print
Fairbanks-based columnist Dermot Cole is back in print with the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Cole made a career at the News-Miner until 2013, when he headed over to the Alaska Dispatch and stayed on through its merger with the Anchorage Daily News. His position at the Alaska Dispatch News was terminated after the purchase by the Fairbanks-based Binkley family.
Cole has been writing on his own personal blog over the last few months and on Thursday announced his return to print with a column that takes issue with the New York Times’ glowing portrait of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Go check out What the New York Times gets wrong about Sen. Lisa Murkowski via the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. It’s worth a read and worth supporting such a talented and thoughtful pillar of Alaska commentary.
Lunchtime with Lottsfeldt
Speaking of Murkowski, we have it on good authority that she and Midnight Sun publisher Jim Lottsfeldt grabbed lunch this week at the Beartooth. Apparently other restaurant patrons were rubbernecking a bit to get pictures of Alaska’s senior senator.
Hayes wake in the works
We’ve also heard that plans are underway for a wake for former House Speaker Joe Hayes. The event is being put together by Wendy Chamberlain and Jim Lottsfeldt. Word is a watering hole in Juneau or Douglas will be the destination because, as Hayes would always say, “Don’t be in the Capitol unless you have a reason to be in the Capitol.”
A lot of the Senate’s roll out of the budget was pretty confusing yesterday, but taken altogether it seems like a pretty clever end-0f-session maneuver. It institutes what’s essentially a retroactive draw on the earnings reserve account to save much of the money that was slated to be spent out of the constitutional budget reserve during the current fiscal year while setting up a path to forward funding education. The budget definitely has its cuts and a sizable budget line for oil tax credits, but it seems like a good-faith attempt going into the conference committee that represents the Senate’s positions.
At least the pitch is that the Senate didn’t go nearly as hard into the cuts as everyone was expecting, showing a bit of a concession that cuts simply aren’t going to fly with the House and governor this year. (And perhaps a suggestion that the House shouldn’t go as hard on new revenues).
All that said, a big fight is brewing over a $4.5 million cut to Alaska State Troopers. This tweet by Walker’s Chief of Staff Scott Kendall was forwarded to us with the accompanying message “damn.”
Budget served up by @pmiccic and @AKSenMajority slashes public safety by $4.5 Million from budget proposed by @AkGovBillWalker. Shameful. Funds for troopers/safety not a political football for negotiations. Enough games. Grow up and put the funds back. Now. #AKleg #SaferAlaska pic.twitter.com/rGuN3ElB5I
— Scott Kendall (@scooterkendall) April 6, 2018
Congratulations of a sort are in order (not too much, though, he still had that horrid “BDSM FREE ZONE” sticker) for Rep. George Rauscher, who finally saw his House Bill 6 pass the House after sitting in the House Rules Committee for a month. The bill names the Jonesville Public Use Area in the Sutton area (though it doesn’t put any additional money to get it set up).
It’s been a long-running issue for Rauscher stemming back to before his time in the Legislature, and his fellow minority House Republicans have been pushing to get it to the floor. If we recall correctly, getting it to the floor was the birthday wish of Minority Leader Rep. Charisse Millett earlier this session.
Still, the House didn’t mind joshing with Rauscher a bit as it passed the House (you know, just like the Senate fooled around with Sen. Shower when they passed the exact same bill last week).
House Bill 6 was just one of more than a dozen bills to suddenly emerge from the House Rules Committee since the operating budget and its PFD vote have left the House. Folks are still waiting to see what, if anything, might happen with Senate Bill 63, the smoke-free workplace bill.
Rolling a committee chair is certainly in season.
And, finally, thanks to everyone who caught my finest typo to date. I’ve made plenty of typos without the watchful oversight of an editor (and a dear thank you to the many friends who’ve helped copy edit my posts after I hit publish), but this is the best. There are already plenty of screenshots going around, so might as well give you this final gift before heading off to enjoy a weekend in front of the WWE Network. I even read over this whole post once before hitting post!
Be safe. Be kind. And always cheer for the underdog.