Welcome to the latest installment of rumors and political gossip from Alaska’s political world. As always, use your brain and don’t be a dummy.
That’s when we expect the Fairbanks Division of Elections to begin their tally of the 340 uncounted absentee ballots that will likely decide the fate of the Scott Kawasaki/Pete Kelly and Kathryn Dodge/Bart LeBon races.
Kawasaki has a 152-vote lead currently, and folks are sounding pretty confident that he’ll be able to pull out a victory here and send the far-right Kelly packing (though perhaps over to the Dunelavy administration? Revenue Commissioner Mocking Laughter, anyone?)
Dodge has a slim 10-vote margin over LeBon.
So far, the already-counted absentee ballots are favoring Republicans by a historically high margin for the district, but word on the ground is that a more even split is expected for the remaining ballots, at least party affiliation wise. There’s still a slight advantage for Republicans expected in the remaining ballots, but not the nearly 3:1 split we’ve seen so far.
If the historically high margin for Republicans continues, Kawasaki would win by about 20 votes according to our back-of-the-envelope math. Dodge would lose by more than 50 votes and, to be honest, it’s a nail-biter even if we assume the numbers will bend back to the historical average.
We broke down the numbers earlier this week, but have since been pinged a few stories suggesting that a theory floated—that later absentee ballots tend to favor liberals because, ah, liberals are slower to mail them in—might not be all that wild of an assumption.
The final, final tally of the race will be next Wednesday, which is the deadline for any ballots postmarked on election day to arrive. Candidates would then have until Nov. 28 to file a request for a recount.
Stay tuned, we’ll have some on-the-spot reporting of numbers from people in the know and will be posting updates to twitter: @mattbuxton.
These two races will help set the balance for the Legislature. If Dodge wins, it’ll throw the knock the 21-member Republican majority down to a 20 members (or 19 depending on how reliable you think Rep. David “I cast 67 solo ‘no’ votes” Eastman will be).
Though the odds Dodge pulls out a victory are honestly not all that great, a 20-20 split would put some really interesting people into play.
We’ve been told that the two to watch under this scenario would be Reps. Louise Stutes, the Kodiak Republican who was spared most of the GOP ire for going bipartisan, and Kotzebue Rep. John Lincoln, who registered as a Democrat right before his appointment earlier this year.
Things also aren’t quite the same for rural Democrats after solid Republican allies Reps. Bob Herron and Bennie Nageak were defeated in the 2016 primaries. Like how bipartisan Republicans kinda paid the price this last election, there’s some thinking that the same would go for rural Democrats.
The other thing for rural Democrats to be considering when considering putting their support behind a Republican speaker is redistricting. The speaker will get to pick one of the five seats on the Alaska Redistricting Board, which is already looking to be at least 3/5 party Republican (two from Dunleavy and one by the Senate).
The next round will also be occurring without most of the key protections of the Voting Rights Act.
Last time Republicans had a hand at the wheel, they made Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, the representative for the Bering Sea by combining the liberal West Fairbanks Ester and Goldstream Valley communities with coastal communities like Emmonak and Hooper Bay (Sen. Lyman Hoffman also became a Fairbanks senator under that absurd plan).
DNR Commissioner “Epic” Commute
Governor-elect Mike Dunleavy announced Corri Feige will be his commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources this week. Feige previously worked as the director for the Division of Oil and Gas under the Walker administration but resigned in 2016, citing in part new opportunities and the “epic” daily commute from Sutton to Anchorage.
An Anchorage Daily News story about her resignation resurfaced, raising eyebrows because it noted that her resignation came amid a battle between the state and producers. It doesn’t however link any Feige directly to that feud other than to note that she previously worked for oil explorer Linc Energy.
We asked around this week, and from what we heard is that “she really did just resign” and “it was pretty boring.” Word was that she was friends with acting commissioner Marty Rutherford and decided to resign soon after Rutherford did.
Also at Feige’s announcement, Dunleavy got the applause from the Resource Development Council for saying that he’s asked the lameduck Walker administration to put the brakes on any new regulations until the Republican can take office and make “Alaska open for business again.”
The only problem with that is that, according to Walker spokesman Austin Baird (via tweet by Elizabeth Harball):
“Because there was never any plan to implement new regulations restricting resource development, the Governor-elect is effectively asking the Walker Administration to continue the work we’ve been doing for the past four years.”
It’s the same kind of salty response we’ve heard from other members of the Walker administration who’re bristling over the implication of Dunleavy’s pledge: That Alaska was somehow closed for business under the Walker administration. Multiple trade missions to China, the gasline, resolving oil tax credits and, you know, turning to the Alaska Permanent Fund instead of any new taxes would beg to differ.
Boards and commissions
As is normal with a new administration, plenty of commissioners and their deputy commissioners are getting their letters of resignation in place for the traditional clearing the decks so we can have the likes of Commerce Commissioner Amy Demboski.
What’s unusual, however, is rumors that Dunleavy’s team may also be considering clearing the decks of all boards and commissions, too. It’s raised some alarms among those groups, but it still seems to be in a holding pattern as the transition team figures things out.
We’re not sure there’ll be a wholesale razing of all these appointments (can you imagine just how awful that joint confirmation hearing in the Legislature would be?), but it sounds like if any board or commission is going to get the boot it could be the Board of Education.
Dunleavy is a committed, lifelong pro-voucher educator after all.
There’s still really no word about whether or not Dunleavy is planning on the constitutional convention that his “constitutional reform” adviser Dick Randolph has dreamed of, but it sounds like people are giving it non-zero chances of happening, particularly if the far-right can take control of the Senate.
That far-right would be expected to be headed by Sen. Cathy Giessel, who’s going head-to-head against Democratic Sen. Lyman Hoffman to pull the Republican Senate majority together. The Kawasaki/Kelly race is likely to be the deciding factor here: Kelly wins and Giessel has enough to cobble together her majority while things are more up in the air if Kawasaki wins.
The big concern here is that enshrining the PFD in the constitution would be the headliner of the convention while less popular things like school vouchers, reshaping the Alaska Judicial Council and eliminating the collective ownership of Alaska’s subsurface mineral rights could sneak their way through.
Still, the process for a constitutional convention is not particularly speedy.
Right to work
Speaking of far-right forces in the Alaska Legislature, there’s a growing expectation that so-called “right-to-work” legislation will be high on the agenda. It was hoped that it’d be on the agenda in the 2015-2016 agenda after pro-labor Republicans like Sen. Click Bishop had cast their votes for oil taxes, but the election of independent Gov. Bill Walker sidelined that talk.
Now that Walker and oil taxes are out of the way, we’ve been told to expect the anti-union Republicans to make their push to make Alaska the latest state. Still, such a move would still be incredibly difficult to force through the Legislature even if Republicans hold majorities in both chambers.
If they do somehow pull it off, expect a massive referendum campaign on the following election. As a reminder, voters in the backward state of Missouri absolutely demolished its Legislature’s right-to-work law. Rejecting the law by a 35-point margin.
As loathe as we are to admit that we’re a dirty gossip blog, we’ve heard that the rumors around Governor-elect Mike Dunleavy’s personal life are not likely to go away. It’s likely just wishful thinking circulating around the anti-Dunleavy circles, but those circles also might just so happen to include some folks that would much rather prefer a Governor Kevin Meyer.
We’ll still chalk it up as a conspiracy theory at this point, but there’s certainly plenty of chatter.
Shrug of the Week: Rogoff lawsuit
The lawsuit between Alaska Dispatch News co-founder Tony Hopfinger and less-than-successful newspaper owner Alice Rogoff over a promise written on a bar napkin got underway this week. It’s sordid and salacious, likely to continue to add depth to the already-damning picture of Rogoff, but both are so far away from the daily operations of the state’s largest newspaper that we find it hard to care a whole lot.
But then again, look at the size of that poster board!
— Nat Herz (@Nat_Herz) November 15, 2018