Welcome to the latest, sometimes greatest roundup of gossip and rumor from Alaska’s political world. We’ll be taking a little holiday break for the next week, but stay tuned for some year-end awards and hastily assembled listicles. Stay salty and skeptical.
The Coastal Caucus
There’s not been a lot of public movement on the organization of a bipartisan caucus in the House, but we’ve been assured from multiple people that, yes, those sorts of discussions are still going and, yes, there are Republicans beyond Rep. Gary Knopp (as well as already-bipartisan Republican Reps. Louise Stutes and Gabrielle LeDoux) involved in those discussions.
Today, we bring you the latest in caucusing news with the formation of the (Mostly) Coastal Caucus that today announced its existence to fellow legislators with a pledge to stick together and form the foundation of the bipartisan coalition.
Its members include: House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham; Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome; Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak; Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan; Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka; Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage; Rep. John Lincoln, D-Kotzebue; Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel; Rep.-elect Sara Hannan, D-Juneau; and Rep.-elect Andi Story, D-Juneau.
“It is our goal to be part of a strong, hard-working majority whose highest priorities are the prosperity, safety, health and well-being of the people of Alaska,” said a letter signed by the group. “We value practical policies and truly working together, an approach that prioritizes people’s needs over party.
“As efforts to form a majority coalition in the House continue, we want fellow House members to know that we are, and will remain, united in our determination to join a coalition that is dedicated to passing a responsible budget, keeping Alaskans safe, and protecting the Permanent Fund and the Permanent Fund Dividend. We will only participate in a coalition that is committed to these goals.”
The notable takeaways from this is, of course, that the only Anchorage representative included in this (Mostly) Coastal Caucus is Rep. LeDoux and the omission of any of the Kenai representatives, including the bipartisan-minded Rep. Knopp (we weren’t expecting any of the others to be on board).
But really, this is a big statement coming from what’s essentially the complete list of legislators that a majority Republican caucus would like to win over to maintain their majority Republican caucus (which was always a near-zero chance when it’d mean having Reps. Tammie Wilson and Lance Pruitt at the helm of the House Finance Committee).
With those 10 sticking together, it’s another stake in the heart of those hopes.
Hello, I don’t trust you
Gov. Mike Michael J. Dunleavy met one-on-one with legislators this week, and it’s produced more or less what you’d expect from what we’ve heard from some legislators and other people who’ve heard recaps.
The one thing that struck many as particularly odd, however, was the governor’s staff’s insistence that no phones or any other electronic device whatsoever be taken into the room with the governor.
“What a way to start building relationships,” one said.
They were reportedly very insistent that no electronic device be brought in, presumably so whatever Michael J. Dunleavy tells the legislators (which for the record wasn’t much, and more than once essentially included “Well, you know my position from my campaign”) can’t be secretly recorded.
One with plenty of experience with all kinds of governors had this to say:
“This is the first time that I’ve ever been asked for this kind of shit.”
Another wondered afterward, “Was he planning to lie to me?”
As for the meeting, it sounded like Michael J. Dunleavy wanted to hear each legislators’ position on the PFD, repealing Senate Bill 91 and each legislators’ personal priorities. The most common complaint I’ve heard from the meetings is that it seemed pretty much like a one-way street as far as the flow of information with legislators getting a lot of the vague answers that reporters have been running into “We’re still studying it” or “Refer to my campaign.”
Democrats we’ve talked with have reported varying impressions about the governor’s engagement in the meetings, ranging from active interest to outright boredom, giving an impression that he’s not all that interested in any bipartisan cooperation (which is probably not that surprising given that he opened most meetings with “I know we don’t agree on much.”)
Still, for others the whole thing didn’t set off the same kind of alarm bells though that might have to do with the fact that some legislators do, in fact, agree with the governor’s broad platform goals of a full PFD and repealing Senate Bill 91. For those, the phone thing didn’t strike them as particularly weird, either.
Everyone had good things to say about their meeting with Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, who’s living up to his self-given title of “nice guy.” Phones were reportedly allowed there, but as far as we know no one hit the record button.
While Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s loyalty-or-you’re-fired letters could only reach non-union employees, it appears that the administration is finding ways to stick it to some union employees (perhaps with the union’s support) by slashing hours from the benefit-earning 37.5 hours per week to the we-don’t-have-to-give-you-squat 29.5 hours per week.
It’s unclear just how many employees were affected by the move, which we were told came “straight from Juneau,” reinforcing a growing body of evidence that state government is becoming an increasingly crummy place to work (unless, of course, you can land one of those political appointment gigs).
The move of slashing outs was popularized by plenty of companies, especially after the Affordable Care Act required employers to provide health care to a greater number of employees. It means affected employees will lose all benefits, including health care, retirement benefits and holiday leave.
If you’re waiting for your repaid dividends—or even a fully funded $3,000 PFD next year—there’s plenty of signs that you might have to wait a little longer. The Alaska Landmine overheard Sen. Natasha von Imhof, the incoming co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, casting shade on the fiscal responsibility of paying out such a big dividend at this time.
It’s not all together that surprising, but it could be a breaking point between the administration and the Republicans in the Legislature. Luckily for them, however, they’ll likely be able to point the finger at whatever House bipartisan coalition comes together.
Michael J. Dunleavy didn’t include the back payment of PFDs in his budget (which most everyone agrees was the right move) and said it’ll come as a separate piece of legislation. There was speculation before the budget was released, however, that there would be no such bill this session anyways.
The hopes of a $6,700 dividend were nice while they lasted. We’ll still keep the clock ticking on this campaign promise.
(By the way, we’ve heard there’s polling out in the field asking how people feel about the governor’s plan to return unpaid PFDs.)
The J stands for?
Meanwhile, the governor has turned his attention to pressing matters of importance, like whether the state’s official letterhead should be Michael Dunleavy or Michael J. Dunleavy.
The state of Alaska is changing its letterhead again. @GovDunleavy has asked state departments to replace all their Governor Michael Dunleavy letterhead with Governor Michael J. Dunleavy letterhead. The change is also coming to state websites. #akleg #akgov
— James Brooks (@AK_OK) December 21, 2018
One observer wondered if it’s yet another step to imitating one Donald J. Trump.
After all, Michael J. Dunleavy’s adopted a similar slogan, a similar distrust of the media, a similar disdain for government employees, a similarly sidelined second-in-charge, similarly hired the head of the party as his chief of staff, and similarly hired some uniquely unqualified people to head up his administrations.
However, our money is on another famous man with a J. for a middle name:
University of Alaska Fairblunts?
Speaking of Js, the Marijuana Control Board on Thursday adopted regulations that’ll allow onsite consumption of marijuana. The question is whether or not Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer will sign the regulations into effect. We’ve heard that such a move is “extremely rare.”
But that was just one of a few interesting things to come out of the meeting. The other was a proposed regulation being put out for public comment that would allow any university with a main campus located in Alaska to obtain a permit for growing and testing marijuana.
Seems logical given the growing opportunity/need for 420 research, but turns out it’s news to the University of Alaska, which didn’t ask for the change and could run into trouble with its substantial federal funding if it decides to get green-friendly. It sounds like it has more to do with pending legislation than anything.
A seat filled
Bouncing back to the Legislature, Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy has picked Sharon Jackson to fill the vacancy left by Rep. Dan Saddler/Rep.-elect Nancy Dahlstrom. Jackson will have to be approved by fellow Republican representatives before she can officially take the seat.
On one hand, it’s great to see a Republican woman of color join the Alaska Legislature. On the other hand, there’s this:
Gov. Dunleavy’s pick for District 13, Sharon Jackson, in 2014 told an Alaska Republican Party Central Committee meeting that public assistance was akin to slavery. So, fun pick. #akleg pic.twitter.com/57mciq8Iur
— John Aronno (@johnaronno) December 21, 2018
The Senate Majority Caucus came together with a not-quite binding caucus with vague penalties described as follows: “Members who find themselves unable to vote for the majority budget will not face automatic removal from the caucus. Consequences for such a vote will be determined by the caucus and consider the importance of representing constituents.”
While the interminable confirmation hearing is a long ways away, there’s already plenty of speculation about where the big confirmation fights will come from. One observer provides this list:
- Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, because of his social conservative record (though, we’d add that social conservativism has seemed to be the one common thread in confirmation hearings, with the recent rejections of a transgender man and a woman with Planned Parenthood in her work history still ringing in our ears).
- Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price because of her lack of experience in law enforcement
- Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune because of his support for the Pebble project
At least that’s the chatter.