Welcome to another installment of Friday in the Sun, our weekly rundown of rumors and gossip from Alaska’s political world.
You can get in touch with your humble, newly Anchorage-based editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunleavy was a no-show at yet another forum this week when he and his running mate, Sen. Kevin Meyer, skipped out on a forum hosted at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. They were both on materials advertising the event (unlike Libertarian candidate Billy Toien and his running mate Care Clift).
It’s becoming a bit of a trend for the Republican and presumptive frontrunner of the three-way race. The official explanation was he was “attending to personal business.” But you have to wonder if he’s sticking to a gameplan and avoiding unfriendly crowds in order to run out the clock or keep voters singularly focused on the fight between Walker and Begich.
It was certainly a more liberal crowd, but it was also pretty hungry for candidates with tough-on-crime platforms (where a question asking if the penalty for murdering a partner or family member could be ratcheted up to 99 years got applause).
Other candidates took plenty of opportunities to beat up on Dunleavy and Meyer in their absence. Walker punched down on Meyer for the Senate dragging its heels on passing a watered down version of Bree’s Law while Begich frequently made mention of Dunleavy’s absence as a missed opportunity for the audience to hear different ideas.
A lot of Thursday night’s forum was focused on battling Downtown Anchorage-y problems like crime, homelessness and drug abuse. One proposal put forward by Begich was an experimental program to just straight up pay for a handful of doctors to treat the Medicaid population to cut out the costly bureaucratic overhead.
Of course, the race is really a four-way race when you include the participation of Libertarian Billy Toien and his running mate Care Clift, who was at the top of the Libertarian ticket in 2014. Both had fine showings at the debates this week, but it’s pretty clear that neither is particularly in it to win it with the race. Clift was a last-minute addition to the ticket via the party’s nomination process because no one had filed to run in the Libertarian primary for the lieutenant governor position.
Toien, meanwhile, is often reminding people that “I’d rather be doing other things.”
Icebergs don’t melt steel beams
Monday’s joint House and Senate resource committee meeting began with a particularly head-turning exchange when Sen. Cathy Giessel took umbrage with a presentation by a state scientist that explained rising sea levels are caused–in part–by melting sea ice.
“If sea ice melting raised the level of the ocean, then glasses with ice water in them would overflow as the ice melted and that, in fact, is not physically what happens,” she demanded to know. “Correct?”
The employee, clearly not wanting to veer off into the debate of the fundamentals and politics of climate change (later refusing to sound off on whether climate change is affected by any man-made activities), said she had to get back to it.
“You can google it and it is a fact,” Giessel responded, noting that the seas can’t rise because the floating icebergs were already displacing that water. She did concede, however, that land-based glaciers may contribute to sea level rise.
Well, we googled it and, surprise, it turns out that ocean levels and icebergs are a little more complicated than ice cubes in a cup. A 2010 study of this very matter found that icebergs DO impact sea levels because of the differences in densities of the freshwater in icebergs and the the saltwater of the oceans. It’s not much, but the 2010 study estimates that melting sea ice contributes about 49 micrometers to the sea level rise per year, which is 0.0049 centimeters.
One observer told us she might as well have held up a snowball as proof that climate change is a hoax, calling the exchange “ludicrous.”
Condolences to the family and friends of Bob Gillam, who died unexpectedly this week after suffering a serious stroke.
Gillam became one of Alaska’s wealthiest residents with the founding of his investment management firm. He put his earnings to work in politics. Since 2012, Gillam has personally contributed $1,461,400 to political causes and candidates in Alaska. He was staunchly opposed to Pebble Mine, giving $1,330,850.00 to Bristol Bay Forever.
ADN lays off DC reporter
Just as things are starting to really heat up in D.C. over Murkowski’s and the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, the Anchorage Daily News has eliminated its on-the-ground D.C. reporter Erica Martinson.
The move leaves Alaska Public Media’s Liz Ruskin as the state’s only on-the-ground repoter in the nation’s capital at a time when national attention on Alaska (AKA on Murkowski) is at an all-time high.
If that’s the sort of thing that’s important to you, perhaps consider putting some financial backing behind your newspapers and buying a subscription. If it’s not, then go ahead and continue to use incognito mode to get around paywalls.
— Kyle Hopkins (@kylehopkinsAK) September 12, 2018
AFN opposition fallout
We’ve heard that the Alaska Federation of Natives opposition to the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh definitely made waves in D.C. Whether or not that will sway U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is yet to be known, but it’s certainly causing people to scramble.
While many were high on Democratic candidate Pat Higgins’ chances at beating Rep. Charisse Millett in the general election, it sounds like a lot of people have written off the race now that Republican Josh Revak beat the Democrats to the punch.
But where the primary closed one door, it opened a window in House District 15 where Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux turned out to be far more vulnerable than anyone thought. In a race that was marked by voting irregularities and, now, the unexpected death of Hmong community consultant Charlie Chang, there’s hope that Democrat Lyn Franks will have a better-than-expected chance at the polls. It also doesn’t hurt that Republicans are planning to run a write in.
Cliff’s plan for Groh-th
We’ve heard that unsuccessful candidate for House District 20’s Democratic nomination, Cliff Groh, is hard at work on a new fiscal plan that will solve the fiscal plan and protect the PFD. A lot of people are anticipating its release.
KTOO is also in the news, facing allegations by current and former employees of workplace bullying and unfair treatment by management. The Juneau Empire has the full story from the outlet’s board meeting.
One of the most damning allegations came from Lisa Phu, a former reporter for both KTOO and the Juneau Empire who currently works as a part-time information officer for the City and Borough of Juneau. While seeking a job as the news director of CoastAlaska, a job that she would have left if she got the job, she was informed that KTOO would refuse to run any of her stories because of a conflict of interest. NPR and the Society of Professional Journalists basically told Phu that such a move is BS.
“While KTOO’s actions confounded and astounded me and others, I shouldn’t have been surprised,” Phu told the board. “This type of behavior is what I sought to escape when I left KTOO.”
KTOO reporter Matt Miller also aired complaints against management, saying he saw “belittling, antagonism and bullying and other inappropriate behavior” against employees. He also said that after he brought up such concerns during his annual performance review, he was promptly demoted.
We’ve also heard rumblings of dissatisfaction with the way the KTOO newsroom operates, with some comparing it to the asshole-filled newsrooms of old school newspapers. None of the day-to-day complaints are all that surprising, but the treatment of both Miller and Phu are particularly galling.
It’ll be interest to see what, if anything, happens.
After publishing our story this week on the breakdown of the admittedly pretty unexciting race for mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, one insider from the area pointed out that perhaps the most significant factor in the race is the lack of Rep.Tammie Wilson. Wilson’s run in both odd-year mayoral races, reaching a run-off in 2009 and a 20-point margin of defeat in 2015, but she’s surely a motivating factor for people to vote against.
This time around, even the progressives seem to agree that the most conservative candidate for mayor, North Pole Mayor Bryce Ward, isn’t all that bad.
Perhaps Democrats should take a lesson from the Republican playbook and start spreading rumors that Wilson is reading to run for some statewide office and hand out the contribution envelopes.