Friday in the Sun (Aug. 23): The ‘HE WILL BE THERE’ edition

Friday in the Sun is here

Welcome to Friday in the Sun, the latest and sometimes greatest Alaska politics column published on a Friday. As always, we don’t really know what we’re talking about so take everything with a grain of salt and trust no one. And, seriously, be careful with all this wildfire smoke.

Hatin’ on the media

When you’re down/facing a massive recall effort backed by members of your own party, it’s always a great idea to divert attention and blame the referees. That’s what Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy appears to be doing with his latest turn this week to blame the media for reporting on his actions. If only reporters repeated his lines without question—as they’ve done from time to time—everything would be going great!

It’s a depressing but, honestly, not-all-that-surprising turn for the administration that seems dead-set on mimicking the oh-so-stellar track record of President Trump. It also comes after the governor delivered, via veto, cuts to public radio stations that will in many cases happen to be roughly the equivalent of employing a full-time reporter. Neat!

Look, it’s always good to be skeptical of anything anyone tells you, especially when their job could be at stake because of it. The media—us dirty bloggers included—can and do get things wrong, but the answer is not to cut yourself off from objective reporting and fall in line with whatever those in political power would have you believe, especially ones that are so eager to engage in partisan gaslighting and spin.

One Facebook commenter sums it up best: “Whenever someone tells you that you can’t trust anyone else but them to tell the truth, you know that they are lying.”

The answer is, unfortunately in this oh-so busy age, to read more and, hey, think before turning to outrage. And take some time to understand the media outlets you’re consuming media from. What kind of experience are they bringing to the table? What’s their backing? Are they run by the former spokesperson of a political party?

And finally, after working as a professional journalist for nearly a decade, this whole idea of a fair, unbiased and dead-eyed journalist is bullshit. Treating everything like there are two, equally right sides does no one—except for those attempting to get away with shady shit—any good. It leads to false equivalency in the press, doing things like elevating climate change deniers over climate scientists.

There are plenty of times when there is a right and a wrong side. And there are plenty of hardworking journalists who understand that, bringing in years of experience and knowledge to cut through the crap while showing the receipts.

As I wrote when I first started writing here at The Midnight Sun, “I like it when things work. I like public policy based on clear evidence and policymakers who have an open mind to that evidence.”

With that being the criteria, is it any surprise that this blog hasn’t been the most friendly outlet for an administration that publishes justifications for its vetoes with things like the word “perhaps” in the justification (more on that later) or meets criticisms with a shrug and a “Well, that’s not my job.”

Subscribe to a local paper and, definitely, definitely become a member of your local radio station. They’re going to need it.

Recall and the fair

The Recall Dunleavy campaign will be wrapping up its signature gathering effort at the end of the Alaska State Fair next weekend, building up a big buffer after having already surpassed the number of signatures needed for the first phase of the recall.

It’s with that in mind that local Republican Party officials are hoping to drum up support for the governor at the 11 a.m. Saturday parade.

“HE WILL BE THERE!” proclaims the Big Brother-ish alert from District 9 Chair Carol Carman.

Most of the alert is dedicated to drumming up concern about those dirty fringe recallers.

“Note we’re told the recall people will also be there en masse – we need to stand tall around the Grandstands to support our Governor. … We are told the ‘recall’ group will have a booth at the fair, will gather sugnatures, and will be wandering around in recall T-Shirts.”

29,577 “sugnatures” (rumored to be up around 36,000 “sugnatures”) in the first two weeks must be making folks a little nervous.

And, hey, while you’re at the fair you can stick around and meet 2019 Iditarod Champion Pete Kaiser starting at noon. He’ll be over at the Iditarod booth.

The oil tax initiative

It’s been a week since the filing of the application for an initiative that would hike taxes on the North Slope’s major oil fields.

First, this is precisely the sort of thing that the governor had in mind when he proposed his anti-tax constitutional amendment. The amendment would put taxes of any kind passed by the Alaska Legislature up to a public vote before they’re implemented.

It’s unsurprisingly gained no traction in Juneau, but a little-discussed element of the amendment is that it would also put all voter-initiated taxes before the Alaska Legislature for approval. The way the amendment is currently drafted, the Legislature would have to pass legislation to allow the voter-created taxes to go into place. It could also just ignore them altogether.

What do you think the Legislature would do if they could vote on this? If you’ve guessed refer them to every single committee and ignore it, then you’d probably be pretty close.

But that amendment—along with every other one proposed by Dunleavy—is still far, far away from being added to the Alaska Constitution.

What that means is if the initiative reaches the ballot, it could be passed by voters and the Legislature would be barred from repealing it for two years. And unlike the referendum over Senate Bill 21 in 2014, there’ll be less confusion over what backers are calling the Fair Share Act, making it a potentially easier campaign.

The Legislature does, however, have the option of knocking the initiative off the ballot altogether if they can pass legislation that is materially similar to the bill. This could make for a very interesting 2020 legislative session, but it’s probably too early for Sen. Bill Wielechowski to start putting together a bill presentation for his legislation repealing the per-barrel credit. (Ah, who am I kidding, he’s had that presentation ready for years.)

The Legislature has shown a remarkable amount of bipartisan cooperation in attempting to put out the fires created by Dunleavy, but oil taxes is probably a bridge too far for the alliance between House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and Senate President Cathy Giessel. Still, stranger things—like the alliance between Edgmon and Giessel in the first place—have happened.

Still, the idea of injecting somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion in additional revenue to the state would sure smooth a lot of things out politically. There’d suddenly be just about enough money in the budget for the government to keep status quo services and nearly pay out a full statutory dividend.

We’re just not looking forward to the interminable modelling and talk of ring-fencing.

$15,000

That’s the new highest monthly rate to live in Alaska’s Pioneer Homes thanks to the newly adopted rates approved today by Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer. Apparently the “conversations” the governor has been having with Alaskans didn’t sway him on the need to double rates.

The changes go into effect on Aug. 30, 2019.

$159.9 million

That’s how much this year’s Medicaid budget will be reduced by. The only problem, as KTOO’s Andrew Kitchenman reports, is that Medicaid spending is largely driven by federal formulas and isn’t as easy to cut as the governor has suggested. The governor’s budget doesn’t even identify where many of these cuts will come from as nothing in the budget changes the eligibility requirements—something that so far, the governor has shied away from raising.

Instead, he’s focused on “finding efficiencies” (sorta like those 2,000 unfunded positions he promised to eliminate on the campaign trail).

Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association CEO Becky Hultberg doesn’t pull any punches in the story:

Hultberg said those numbers may not hold up, which will require the Legislature passing a supplemental budget next year.

“We’re concerned that the governor’s Medicaid cuts are not transparent and that they’re not real,” she said.

“They’re not transparent because the department has not identified how it is going to achieve these savings.”

It means Alaska’s Medicaid program will be on course to run out of money before the end of the fiscal year and the Legislature will need to once again muster the votes for a big ol’ supplemental budget to make the program whole. The short-sightedness won’t likely affect access to services for people on Medicaid—at least as long as the providers keep their doors open—instead it will fall on the health care providers and hospitals.

But, hey, why not commission yet another study on it!

‘Taken MBA classes not completed’

Former Department of Administration Commissioner-designee Jonathan Quick, the guy who lost his job after he was caught lying to the Senate, is back in the news. He’s filed to run for the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Nikiski seat on the assembly. At least he’s being honest this time around about not having an MBA as his election form states “Taken MBA classes not completed.” His prowess of “running” a coffee shop has also been reduced to “Entrepreneur.”

Gotta admire his confidence, though, to put a job he had to resign from in a flurry of media coverage on his resume:

Well-known #akleg Twitterer and teacher Jesse Bjorkman is also in that race. So far, it doesn’t appear that he has ever owned any yogurt shops.

Appointments

Speaking of high-profile rejections, former Alaska Marijuana Control Board appointee Vivian Stiver is back on the governor’s list of appointees. This time the anti-pot campaigner is in line for a position on the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation’s Board of Trustees. Former Marijuana Control Board member Bruce Schulte was the governor’s pick for seat denied to Stiver by the Alaska Legislature.

Also on the list of appointments to the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission are a slate of Republicans, including Fairbanks residnet Mike Prax, who’s previously testified against funding public media. In case you were worried about the kind of damage they might be able to do to public broadcasting, you won’t have to worry too much. The governor’s veto eliminates all the funding that would normally pass through the commission as well as any funding for the commission to even convene meetings.

Les Gara’s ‘Retirement’ Party

More than 100 people reportedly attended former Rep. Les Gara’s don’t-call-it-a-retirement-party party last night. Pretty much everyone you’d expect to attend the event hosted at former Sen. Hollis French’s home were spotted, including the big-ticket 2020 candidates like Liz Snyder, Al Gross and Alyse Galvin, who all got shout-outs from the “feisty” former Sen. Johnny Ellis.

There was also a straw poll for Democratic presidential candidates, which U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren smashed by an ultra-wide margin.

Update: We were also told by a reputable source who wanted to also point out that Fran Ulmer, Vic Fischer and Jane Angvik were also there, too. Ulmer doesn’t make many “political” appearances, so we’re told it’s pretty notable. Amanda Metivier, who worked with Gara to help found Facing Foster Care in Alaska, also gave a speech highlighting Gara’s work with foster care. It was all super nice.

‘Perhaps’

Keeping on the track of failing to think through his vetoes, the governor took plenty of items in the capital budget to task for not having adequate backing. Those are things like the $10 million the Legislature put in place to build out additional substance abuse treatment facilities.

But then, we find it interesting that this is what he has to say about his veto of $750,000 for the Alaska Cold Climate Housing Research Center.

“This is a standalone non-profit founded by the Alaska State Home Building Association that claims to have dozens of involved partners—perhaps there are other funds that may be leveraged to offset this veto.”

Perhaps?

September 6

That’s the deadline for Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy to fill the late Sen. Chris Birch’s seat. He’ll have Rep. Laddie Shaw, Albert Fogle and Anchorage School Board member Dave Donley to pick from. The decision must be approved by the sitting Senate Republicans.

Considering that the 12 sitting Senate Republicans are split down the middle on the biggest issue of the day—the dividend—this ought to be an interesting one behind the scenes.

The Senate has been hesitant about any reorganization after rebellion of the Dunleavy-allied senators, but perhaps this could be the breaking point.

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