Welcome to the latest edition of Friday in the Sun, our weekly column that delves into the political rumors that we can get our greasy mitts on, catch up on the news and make sense of the week in Alaska politics.
In an edition that’s full faux apologies, I just want to say thanks for bearing with me for skipping last week’s column. As it turns out, writing a political news blog while disgustingly sick is a bit of a challenge.
Have a nice weekend everyone, and for the fancy Anchorage folks going to the Mayor’s Ball this weekend you might even be able to spot me trying my best at reporter chic.
The non-apology tour
We caught wind of this last week, but in the last month or so Dear Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy has reportedly been out on a tour meeting with the surprisingly sizable group of folks who fall in the camp of traditional supporters of Republicans who also happen to support the recall. The series of meetings have reportedly been set up by wealthy Dunleavy boosters Bob Penney and Jim Jansen and have been taking place with, well, mixed success.
We’ve talked with a few people familiar with the meetings, attended by Dunleavy and Chief of Staff Ben Stevens, and it sounds like most of them are not explicitly about the recall but instead couched as an effort to “listen” to their concerns as they put together the budget. We won’t quote anything verbatim, but it sounds like the efforts to talk around the disastrous summer for the governor has been, well, fun.
What definitely hasn’t been said in any of the meetings is: “I’m sorry” or “We were wrong” or “Whoops, hiring Donna Arduin to cut senior benefits and everything else was kinda boneheaded.”
As with everything, though, it’s clearly about settling down the recall and attempting to take some of the Republican-driven heat off the governor. They say they’re not afraid, but they are. As we reported earlier this year, the governor’s surprise visit to Fairbanks for a John Sturgeon fundraiser had to be particularly eye-opening when some attendees were busy encouraging folks to sign the recall petition.
As for the latest round of meetings, it doesn’t sound like it’s going particularly well, especially given the fact that the governor’s still pushing ahead with some truly out there legal cases that seem to be more interested in the national conservative agenda than any kind of pro-Alaska agenda.
One person pretty much summed up the meetings as Stevens essentially messaging to everyone that: “I have him under control.”
Still, it doesn’t sound like Stevens, who’s been heralded as a great moderating force for the administration despite coming with his own pile of baggage and personality conflicts, is much of a calming force for anyone except the folks already looking for a reason to forgive Dunleavy.
Which is to say the non-apology tour hasn’t been entirely devoid of success. From what we’ve heard, there’s been some well-to-do recall backers who’ve quietly backed off the effort.
Who those backers are is more of guessing game as the Recall Dunleavy effort doesn’t have to currently disclose its financial backers in a “quirk” of Alaska’s swiss cheese-style campaign finance laws.
For the folks we talked to, they remained skeptical of the whole thing believing that the governor and his chief of staff are more talk than action when it comes to righting the errors of the administration’s first year in office.
The proof, they say, will be in the pudding once the governor’s initial budget is released in December. We wouldn’t be surprised to see if a few issues around the edge are included in the budget. Think along the same lines of what he “restored” in the second round of vetoes.
Also, if things pan out right, the recall effort could be at a point where it’ll be kicking off its second round of signature gathering around this time. While a few million dollars here and there of avoided cuts might quell the monied backers, any kind of cuts to K-12 funding (recall Dunleavy wanted a 25 percent cut to schools last year) could throw gasoline right back on that fire.
Meanwhile, the parallels between embattled University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen and Dunleavy continue to build. Well not quite parallels but bear with us for a minute as we explain.
This week, the Board of Regents reversed course on its increasingly unpopular (within the university community, at least) effort to consolidate the university under a single accreditation in the face of near revolt from faculty and students. A lot of the ire has been directed at Johnsen, who the faculty organizations have accused of unilaterally pushing for these changes.
There’s definitely some merit to the concerns as Johnsen has long entertained the idea of a consolidated university and also put the lid on the campus chancellors’ ability to talk publicly about their concerns with the cuts. Like Dunleavy, Johnsen overestimated the support for his position and found himself out on a limb and in potential peril.
A recall effort for Dunleavy and several votes of no confidence for Johnsen.
But where Dunleavy has avoided admitting error in his first year, Johnsen took to YouTube this week to issue an address where he admitted he overstepped.
“I’ve had some time to reflect on my part in how things have fractured over the last few weeks,” he said. “And I think what I’ve learned there is, one, that I sort of stayed in that crisis mode that I was in over the spring and the summer, trying to fight off that huge budget cut, and I didn’t adjust to our new, still urgent, reality.”
There have been calls for Dunleavy to admit he was wrong and will be doing things differently, and that’s more or less what Johnsen did in his address. But like any such hypothetical apology by the governor, Johnsen’s most ardent opponents aren’t really buying it.
But that’s not really the point.
These kinds of apologies aren’t really meant for the people who are going to oppose you regardless. They’re for the people whose politics lay somewhere in the middle and who mostly just don’t want to have to constantly worry about stuff.
It’s about surviving the day.
That’s the running total for the Department of Law’s efforts to contract out its union-busting case against the Alaska State Employees Association.
The state already put $50,000 to the effort by farming out the case to the right-wing law firm Consovoy McCarthy and is seeking an additional $75,000 for the firm to continue the fight. You might know the firm as trying the team trying to help President Trump keep his financial records a secret (which isn’t going so hot, according to today’s news) and is currently arguing an anti-LGBTs position front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Already, the case has been smacked down in the Anchorage Superior Court which found that, surprise, Clarkson’s claims that Janus v. ASEA required the state to take an unprecedented action to intervene with employees’ membership in unions. The judge even granted an injunction forcing the state to halt its union-busting efforts.
A particularly interesting part of the judge’s order was the frequent acknowledgement that despite Consovoy McCarthy’s “very thorough” 50-page brief completely failed to address or contend with many of the legal issues raised by the unions.
Perhaps Clarkson finds a kindred spirit in Consovoy McCarthy for not only arguing right-wing cases but also losing them in fabulous fashion. And, hey, why not stop there? Those new regulations would also allow Clarkson to operate as Dunleavy’s personal lawyer in the face of ethics complaints. Neat!
Given all the money the state appears willing to pour into its union-busting lawsuit, it’s interesting that the cost of litigation and the likelihood that it’ll fail were the reasons Clarkson said when he made good on the rumors he would be killing the last remaining remnants of the state’s Alaska hire efforts.
“Alaska has turned its back on Alaska’s workers,” said an editorial penned by labor-friendly Republican Sen. Click Bishop along with fellow former Department of Labor commissioners Heidi Drygas, Ed Flanagan and Jim Sampson.
Out of touch
Given everything, it’s almost as if the administration is out of touch with Alaska.
We find that hard given that word going around is that Dunleavy and Clarkson have had a ball redecorating, remodeling and refurnishing their offices. Someone guesstimated that Clarkson spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 on his offices while the governor has installed a “giant” chair in his office, so he’s always seated higher than everyone else.
We’re not really sure how much credence to give to any of this, but I guess we can see there being some truth to it given how dead-set the governor seems to be on mimicking the Trump administration.
That’s how much conservative government bloat-hating Dave Stieren will be making for a job that Marilyn Stewart was doing for $70,008. One politico’s response: “Remind me never to feel underqualified for anything ever again.”
They’re still on the hunt for a replacement for spokesman Matt Shuckerow, who finally announced his departure last week. He’s expected to head over to U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s campaign once it’s formally launched.
Of course, this all comes as the governor announced that he had vetoed legislation that would tighten the rules around the administration’s ability to create new positions with unlimited salaries—something that the administration seems to be pretty keen on lately—even though it passed the legislature on a 56-1 vote.
The Legislature will have a chance to override the veto whenever it gavels in next.
Speaking of the 2020 congressional race, the Alaska Democratic Party has endorsed Al Gross for the U.S. Senate seat. Meanwhile, already-endorsed U.S. House candidate Alyse Galvin announced she raised $460,000 in the first quarter of this fundraising cycle.
Shift in tone
It went largely unnoticed this week, but there was some pretty notable news out of Legislature’s Permanent Fund Working Group’s meeting on Monday. Namely, that the PFD Defender crowd seems to be backing away from their all-or-nothing approach they took the whole session.
Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, said she’s leaning more toward a 50-50 split between government and dividends for the annual draw from the Alaska Permanent Fund. The so-called “grand compromise” still leaves a sizable deficit for the state moving forward.
Wonder what former Gov. Bill Walker has been up to? Well, other than fixing up docks, porches and patios. The independent one-term governor is scheduled to give a talk on state politics next Thursday at the Anchorage Museum. Find the details on the event’s Facebook page.
Local election fallout
What was a good day for conservatives in the Fairbanks-area elections was confirmed this week with the counting of the remaining ballots. None of the election-day results were changed by the final count, meaning conservative Mayor Jim Matherly and several conservative city councilors and borough assemblymembers will all take their seats.
Like with all local races, there’s plenty to try to read into the election, which continued the trend of pretty bad turnout. One of the key things that we noticed was that all but one of the conservative victories came in crowded fields. Progressives won most of the head-to-head races on a day that will certainly give us flashbacks to the 2018 statewide races.
There’s stuff like that that might encourage people to write off the conservative victories as yet another bungled effort by progressives, but we’d warn against such wishful thinking.
Mainly, one of the big themes that ran through the election was the activation of voters with a socially conservative platform. Matherly ran farther to the right than pretty much any other local candidate in recent memory on a platform that included vetoing an LGBT equal protection ordinance, support for anti-transgender “bathroom bill” legislation and right-wing memes that he blamed on his girlfriend.
It’d be interesting to see if this kind of strategy takes root elsewhere.
On a final note, local election turnout was super low throughout the state last week. The Kodiak Daily Mirror had this dark note about just how bad it was.