Welcome to the latest edition of Friday in the Sun, our weekly column attempting to make sense of the news, rumors and gossip from the last week (or two) in Alaska politics.
It’s a short-and-somewhat-sweet edition this week as I have family in town (for the third time in about 10 years of living in Alaska), so I’m off for an early weekend. Hopefully y’all can do the same.
Alaska’s redistricting process began this week with the first meeting of the Redistricting Planning Committee on Wednesday. The committee is tasked with preparing for the official Alaska Redistricting Board that will be appointed later next year so you won’t find much talk of district lines, truncating terms or suspicious appendages reaching from one district into another to grab what people think are legislators’ homes.
Instead, the Wednesday meeting was mostly about setting up the process to things like buy laptops, find office space, hire legal counsel and figure out which sophisticated software they should utilize for the process.
That software is likely going to be the most substantial decision the committee makes, particularly in an era where gerrymandering has become incredibly sophisticated and when Alaska’s election district maps is no longer under the scrutiny of the federal Voting Rights Act. (Thanks, U.S. Supreme Court for deciding that racial bias in elections is OVER!)
An interesting thing that was discussed when it came to software was the option to let people mess around with the data and make their own proposed maps. That sounds neat to us. We certainly know a few data nerds who could play around with that.
Oh, and as far as the Mat-Su goes, it looks like it’s in line for additional seats according to work from Alaska Economic Trends earlier this year. The official count won’t occur until we get the results back from the U.S. Census next year. Here’s the takeaway from the report:
“Mat-Su’s growth this decade will largely be at the expense of Anchorage and Fairbanks, in contrast to the 2000s. Mat-Su’s population is now large enough for five full districts puls three-quarters of another and it has overtaken Fairbanks as the second-largest borough. This drops Fairbanks to five and one-fourth districts, which would be a return to its 2000 representation level,” explains the report. “The biggest loss is set to fall on Anchorage, whose population now amounts to 16 districts, a decline of a half district from 2010.”
- Mat-Su is expected to go from 5 House seats to 5.75 House seats.
- Anchorage goes from 16.5 to 16.
- Fairbanks goes from 5.5 to 5.25.
- The projections actually see an uptick in representation for most of western and northern coastal Alaska though it wouldn’t necessarily result in additional pickups.
“As long as we don’t have to.”
Speaking of the Mat-Su gobbling up everything, the latest report from the partnership between the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica dropped this week, outlining how a big chunk of Alaska State Troopers can be found patrolling the growing, mostly White suburbs of the Mat-Su Borough.
Mat-Su is home to one in seven Alaskans but gets more than one in five of Alaska’s troopers, where they deal with everything ranging from brownie theft to break-ins and domestic violence calls. The Mat-Su Borough, of course, refuses to pay for any of this and has rejected efforts to fund its own police force.
From the story:
Asked if Mat-Su residents should pay for the police services that troopers provide, (Mat-Su Assemblyman Jesse) Sumner replied, “Sure.”
“But we’re not going to do that, as long as we don’t have to,” he said.
Hmm, does Mat-Su have a motto? Because that sure sounds like a good candidate.
Anyways, it’s an excellent report that puts into clear detail a problem that’s been around for a long time but is particularly stark given the partnership’s earlier reports on the shocking lack of law enforcement in rural Alaska.
It’s not a problem created by the Dunleavy administration, but it’s one that hasn’t been improved by the administration’s attitudes and actions toward rural Alaska.
The administration cut funding for the Village Public Safety Officer program in this year’s budget (while increasing funding for troopers) and Dunleavy’s recent promise to fund VPSO officers “If there are recruits for the VPSO programs” was met with skepticism because the administration has rejected several requests for recruitment money.
A real friend for rural Alaska, huh?
The first draft of Dunleavy’s second budget is due out on Dec. 15 and it sounds like it’ll likely be released a little early with the weekend coming up. Just what’s in it is anyone’s guess, but the governor has been out meeting with folks in an effort that’s totally not about quelling the recall effort.
We’ve already talked about the governor’s less-than-convincing attempt at turning a page on his “turbulent” first year, but the budget will speak louder than any conciliatory speeches he gives to Alaska audiences.
Who’s at the controls?
What’s particularly odd about the whole thing is that the Dunleavy administration is heading into budget time without permanent hires into key roles. We don’t have a permanent budget director, permanent Revenue commissioner or a press secretary on the job.
The continued vacancy at the head of the Office of Management and Budget would seem to lend some credence to the rumors that former Sen. Anna MacKinnon could be in line for the role once the constitutional one-year prohibition on legislators taking on jobs they’ve voted to create or give a pay raise to. Such rumors have been going back and forth a lot ever since the departure of OMB Director Donna Arduin and it would certainly create an interesting situation given that her husband, John MacKinnon, is the transportation commissioner.
What’s particularly interesting is the lack of a press secretary in the wake of Matt Shuckerow’s exit.
The administration has hired conservative radio personality Dave Stieren as the administration’s $135,000-per-year gig as “community relations liaison,” a job that apparently includes doing phony softball interviews of the governor.
We’ve heard that the administration is looking, particularly at potential television reporters and anchors (it worked out alright for Walker), but that no one is biting this time around.
And who could blame them? It’d be hard to work for an administration that seems to have such a loose relationship with the truth and not to mention that who knows how long you’d have the job.
Neat! See ya next week, y’all.