Welcome to Friday in the Sun, the weekly column where we try to make sense of the week’s news, rumors and gossip from the Alaska political world. As always, everything is—at a minimum—vetted to a similar degree as the governor’s appointees, which is to say take everything with a grain of salt.
After a few weeks loaded with high-level legal battles, it’s been a relatively quiet and generally wonky week. That would normally be my jam but I’ve been laid up with a bad cold, which is as good a reason as any to remind all y’all self-employed folks that the open enrollment period for health insurance is open through Dec. 15. Sign up! There’s a whole second option in Alaska this year!
‘Listen to Alaskans!’
The Alaska Municipal League held its annual meeting in Anchorage this week, bringing together local government folks from around the state for a deeply nerdy time discussing the everything from the public employee retirement system and ground water contamination to local policing and the ferry system.
Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy appeared via video message to promise he’s not going to try to swipe hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue from local governments like he tried during this year’s session when he proposed legislation that would have gobbled up the local share of oil and gas property taxes and fisheries taxes. The message got the “conciliatory” label from KTUU’s report, similar to his address to the Alaska Federation of Natives earlier this year.
Like then, this week’s message was similarly met with “I’ll believe it when I actually see it” skepticism.
Local officials have spent much of Dunleavy’s time in office having their concerns about state policy dismissed—told by former OMB Director Donna Arduin that it’s not the state’s job to consider local impacts—and watch as their budgets shoulder the burden of the governor’s actions on everything from school bond debt reimbursement and cuts to homelessness services and the ferry system.
In a Tammie Wilson-esque turn, none other than conservative Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly was the one to throw some serious shade at the Tall One for not showing up in person.
While the governor has been on an “conciliatory” tour where he’s pledging to “listen to Alaskans,” Matherly told the audience that there’s no better place to “listen to Alaskans” than at a meeting where nearly every corner of Alaska is represented. A video message isn’t listening.
Ben Stevens and Amy Demboski had made appearances at previous AML meetings (to admittedly mixed results then, too), but skipped out on this week’s meeting.
In fact, not a single person from the governor’s office attended.
AML isn’t likely the friendliest atmosphere to the embattled governor, but it’s also an opportunity to potentially mend the bridges. Isn’t that the point of his shift to the “conciliatory” tone that we’ve been reading so much about?
The reading between the lines is that the Dunleavy administration could have some nasty surprises in store for local governments in the upcoming budget and legislative session. He said he’s abandoned his proposals to confiscate local revenue, but there’s plenty of other ways to shift state costs to local governments.
There’s the reduction to school bond debt, which was cut by 50 percent this year, there’s community revenue sharing, there’s state support for K-12 education (which Dunleavy wanted to cut by 25 percent) and there’s also the state public employee retirement system, which currently caps local contributions to 23 percent of the cost.
Any changes to those proposals—some of which would need legislative sign approval—would cause some major wreckage for local governments.
Or perhaps there’s none of that and the governor just had more pressing events to attend.
“Was he busy meeting with his Koch buddies to get his latest marching orders?” joked one observer.
Speaking of local governments stepping up in the absence of state spending, the Anchorage Assembly passed its budget this week. It’s a $530 million spend with most of its $13.3 million in additional spending going toward public safety in the form of additional police, fire fighters and emergency dispatchers as well as covering cutbacks in state spending.
The most notable increase is a $735,000 increase to extend shelter services in the city. There was a fair bit of back and forth on just how to fund this spending with an initial proposal that would have seen unallocated cuts doled out to various departments.
It’s bad policy when it’s proposed on the state level and the assembly relented, ultimately cobbling together a plan that pulled money out of specific areas of city government in order.
Third-tier law enforcement
Also from AML, we caught wind of a work session on municipal police village public safety offices attended by Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Leon Morgan and Alaska Police Standards Council Executive Director Bob Griffiths.
The takeaway message seemed to be that village police officers and VPSOs are second- and third-tier forms of law enforcement and that everything is fine with the Alaska State Troopers despite what the reporting from ProPublica/ADN might suggest about rural Alaska.
Kudos goes to Juneau Rep. Sara Hannan, who reportedly yelled out “Properly fund rural Alaska law enforcement!”
Aside from some legislative heckling, the line that everything is OK seems to be part of a weird trend for the administration when it comes to public safety up and down. Instead of recognizing and working to address glaring problems in the system, the strategy has seemed to be instead to move the goalposts to prove that, actually, everything is fine.
They did the same with a recent report saying that actually everything is fine with the caseloads at the Public Defender Agency. Never mind the scathing letter from a judge criticizing the busted process in Alaska’s criminal justice system or the fact that roughly half of Alaska’s prison population is unsentenced individuals in the pre-trial category.
Taken together, this is self-grading on a curve. But then again, why fix something when you can just change the definition of “fixed?”
The lawsuit over the state’s denial of a same-sex couple’s PFD is messed up as it is, but seriously, what kind of response is that from Attorney General Kevin Clarkson? In since-deleted tweets, he launched a tirade against the couple calling it a “false lawsuit,” “pointless” and “a big non-issue” along with pictures of the application.
A Department of Law spokeswoman explained the tweets were deleted so they could “double check out facts.” Seriously?
We would have hoped that there were some standards for the attorney general, one of them being not to lash out on Twitter and embarrass everyone in the process.
For anyone wondering if the energy behind the Recall Dunleavy campaign might be flagging look no further than last weekend’s fundraiser in Sitka. The event was organized by local campaign volunteers with the goal of raising $32,000 from 20 tables for the recall effort.
It raised $45,800.
KCAW’s report on the event also pointed out that the fundraiser also happened to take place a day after the governor attended the Alaska State Trooper Academy’s graduation ceremonies in Sitka:
“Barely 24-hours after Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy visited Sitka this month (11-15-19), local residents raised over $45,000 to remove him from office. Although the timing of the Sitka event in support of the statewide ‘Recall Dunleavy’ campaign was coincidental, it was so successful that organizers plan to use it as a model in other communities.”
Recall by the numbers
Speaking of the recall, this week we wrote about Debra Call filing to run for the Alaska Legislature—lining up for a run against Sen. Josh Revak—in the special election to fill the remaining two years of the Senate District M seat.
We crunched some numbers and found that about 8 percent of the voters in the District M signed the recall petition (8 percent signed statewide, by the way).
Anyways, here’s the numbers for your perusal.
The high enthusiasm for the recall isn’t all that surprising in areas like Juneau or the University-heavy areas of Fairbanks, but there’s some results that should spell worry for some Dunleavy-aligned House members. More than 10 percent of voters in Rep. Sarah Vance’s district signed the recall. About 8.5 percent of voters in Rep. Lance Pruitt’s district signed the petition.
On the flip side is the fact that less than 4 percent of voters in bipartisan coalition member Rep. Gary Knopp’s district signed the petition.
|1-A||1,182||13,487||8.76%||Bart LeBon (R-Maj)||Scott Kawasaki|
|2-A||531||11,483||4.62%||Steve Thompson (R-Maj)|
|3-B||460||14,452||3.18%||Tammie Wilson (R-Min)||John Coghill|
|4-B||2,686||14,983||17.93%||Grier Hopkins (D)|
|5-C||1,869||13,780||13.56%||Adam Wool (D)||Click Bishop|
|6-C||744||15,138||4.91%||Dave Talerico (R-Min)|
|7-D||415||15,908||2.61%||Colleen Sullivan-Leonard (R-Min)||David Wilson|
|8-D||325||16,573||1.96%||Mark Neuman (R-Min)|
|9-E||958||16,258||5.89%||George Rauscher (R-Min)||Mike Shower|
|10-E||591||16,720||3.53%||David Eastman (R-Min)|
|11-F||751||15,937||4.71%||DeLena Johnson (R-Min)||Shelley Hughes|
|12-F||746||16,036||4.65%||Cathy Tilton (R-Min)|
|13-G||463||13,208||3.51%||Sharon Jackson (R-Min)||Lora Reinbold|
|14-G||1,017||16,388||6.21%||Kelly Merrick (R-Min)|
|15-H||436||12,172||3.58%||Gabrielle LeDoux (R)||Bill Wielechowski|
|16-H||1,128||14,644||7.70%||Ivy Spohnholz (D)|
|17-I||1,160||13,015||8.91%||Andy Josephson (D)||Elvi Gray-Jackson|
|18-I||1,839||13,973||13.16%||Harriet Drummond (D)|
|19-J||967||12,052||8.02%||Geran Tarr (D)||Tom Begich|
|20-J||1,892||13,949||13.56%||Zack Fields (D)|
|21-K||1,916||14,457||13.25%||Matt Claman (D)||Mia Costello|
|22-K||1,172||14,821||7.91%||Sara Rasmussen (R-Min)|
|23-L||982||14,093||6.97%||Chris Tuck (D)||Natasha von Imhof|
|24-L||1,348||14,812||9.10%||Chuck Kopp (R-Maj)|
|26-M||1,214||15,337||7.92%||Laddie Shaw (R-Min)|
|27-N||1,291||15,267||8.46%||Lance Pruitt (R-Min)||Cathy Giessel|
|28-N||2,153||16,374||13.15%||Jennifer Johnston (R-Maj)|
|29-O||772||15,859||4.87%||Ben Carpenter (R-Min)||Peter Micciche|
|30-O||644||16,356||3.94%||Gary Knopp (R-Maj)|
|31-P||1,778||17,409||10.21%||Sarah Vance (R-Min)||Gary Stevens|
|32-P||1,403||13,662||10.27%||Louise Stutes (R-Maj)|
|33-Q||2,952||15,998||18.45%||Sara Hannan (D)||Jesse Kiehl|
|34-Q||1,741||15,537||11.21%||Andi Story (D)|
|35-R||1,768||15,508||11.40%||Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D)||Bert Stedman|
|36-R||1,158||14,997||7.72%||Dan Ortiz (U)|
|37-S||719||10,473||6.87%||Bryce Edgmon (U)||Lyman Hoffman|
|38-S||967||12,071||8.01%||Tiffany Zulkosky (D)|
|39-T||550||12,200||4.51%||Neal Foster (D)||Donny Olson|
|40-T||506||10,082||5.02%||John Lincoln (D)|
Free to good home
Skagway News Publisher Larry Persily says he’s willing to give away the paper to someone who’s willing to live in Skagway and oversee the paper. It’s a truly Alaska-style story and hopefully one that someone takes advantage of. The only hitch is that you need to spell both “Skagway” and “Persily” correct, so I guess we’re out of the running.
News-Miner outhouse calendars
Speaking of local news, your humble editor’s alma mater has its annual outhouse calendar out. Go and order yourself one or 15.