Welcome back to Friday in the Sun, the latest and sometimes greatest collection of gossip and rumors from the Alaska political world that gets published on Fridays!
The slow holidays are a warm, distant memory, legislators are on their way to Juneau and the session is set to start on Tuesday. Both the House and Senate are due in at 1 p.m. on Tuesday. So, go out—make some wild assertions that session will actually, finally be done in 90 days this time, we promise—and enjoy this moderately frigid weekend before we get into the grind.
“This allegation is legally sufficient.”
About this time last week, we were all over at the Boney Courthouse watching as the state and Mr. Brewster H. Jamieson mounted a last-ditch effort to convince Judge Eric Aarseth to jettison a bunch of legal precedent and apply a much tougher threshold for considering recall grounds.
There must be demonstratable harm! The violating the law was just a technicality! Voters must be able to completely, 100 percent informed by the 200-word recall statement!
It wasn’t long into Judge Aarseth’s ruling that it was clear that he wasn’t interested in breaking precedent and inventing new standards for the recall, finding that all but one of the claims brought by Recall Dunleavy were legally sufficient to move forward.
Still, one of the most striking things was how little things seemed to change in the courtroom. There wasn’t a sense of victory, defeat or really even relief. It was just another step in a process that will end in the Supreme Court.
Talking with an attorney who wasn’t involved in this case, there wasn’t much reason to expect a surprise. Judge Aarseth is considered to be conservative—both politically and judicially—meaning that he’s not the guy to expect precedent-breaking rulings from.
In his written order, which was released this week, Judge Aarseth makes that clear. While there’s plenty of oof-inducing, “Aw, SNAP!” lines from the ruling, it reads almost like an equation. If A+B+C=C, then “This allegation is legally sufficient.”
Here’s a sampling when it comes to Dunleavy’s refusal to appoint a judge by day 45:
“Governor Dunleavy had a legal duty to select a candidate within the time prescribed by the Legisalture. If the allegations are true, his failure to select a candidate by the prescribed date could demonstrate to a voter that: he ‘lacks fitness’ because he did not obey the law; that he is ‘incompetent’ because he did not understand his duty to conduct his due diligence on the candidates or process before the expiration of the statutory deadlines; and/or that he ‘neglected his duty’ because he failed to appoint a new judge within the time given by statute. This allegation is legally sufficient.”
And for Dunleavy’s state-funded campaign targeting a bunch of female legislators who opposed him:
“If the allegations are true, Governor Dunleavy’s conduct could constitute a violation of the law, which would constitute neglect of duty. If he understood the laws, and chose to ignore the laws, the act could establish a lack of fitness. On the other hand, if he did not intend to violate the law or did not understand the law, the allegations, if true, could establish his incompetence. The facts and conclusions, therefore, are left to the voters to decide. This allegation is legally sufficient.”
As it currently stands, the court has ordered the Division of Elections to prepare and release the signature booklets for the second round of signature gathering by Feb. 10 unless the order is stayed by the Alaska Supreme Court.
Aarseth has already indicated that he won’t be entertaining his own stay, but that hasn’t stopped Jamieson and Stand Tall with Mike from asking.
Duck ‘n’ Runleavy
Which leads us to the laughable motion from STWM asking for Aarseth for a stay, arguing that it will suffer irreparable harm if the signature-gathering is permitted to go forward because it must campaign against that effort and that, hey, it’s also likely to win in the Supreme Court anyways.
The most head-turning claim is that the:
“STWM’s members face irreparable harm if the Governor is distracted from implementing the agenda that drew votes from 145,000 Alaskans (including STWM’s members) during the last general election. STWM’s members campaigned for the Governor’s election because they believed in his platform. If the governor faces a recall campaign, he will be less able to focus on fulfilling his campaign promises while defending against the recall effort. STWM’s members will not be able to recover the lost chance to put the state on a firmer fiscal footing. This is all the more true if the recall election is called and the Governor removed from office before the supreme court can rule.”
Ah, so that’s why he’s been spending so much time in DC, why he had to ditch out from this week’s appearance on Talk with Alaska, why he has still yet to announce his budget town hall schedule and, presumably, why he skipped out on all those debate appearances in 2018. Everything would be so great if it weren’t for that dang meddlin’ Recall!
We like the new moniker that’s sprung up this week: Duck ‘n’ Runleavy.
Return to the courts
Unfortunately, you can’t outrun the long, underfunded arm of the legal system. The case over the governor’s veto of $334,700 from the court’s budget, which he perhaps made unconstitutional by boasting its connection to an abortion ruling he didn’t like, is due in court for oral arguments on April 15 at 2 p.m.
Reminder that these big media-centric cases are usually over at the Boney Courthouse and not the Nesbett Courthouse, as your not-so-punctual editor found out last week.
Return of the poll
Even though legislators are headed into session, a 90-day-plus period where we’ll be spared from their fundraising requests, the election season is already well underway and Alaska is garnering plenty of interest.
We got a peek at some polling numbers this week that ought to give Republicans some pause (which, admittedly, is the kind of polling that usually gets shared with us). The part of the poll shared with us shows approval ratings for Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Dear Ol’ Rep. Don “Headbutt” Young from undeclared and nonpartisan voters are way underwater. We’re talking by double digits here.
Dunleavy’s net approval rating (positive minus negative) looks like the recent lows in Fairbanks at a frigid minus 29. Young fairs slightly “better” with a minus 11.
Of course, only Young will be—as of this writing—on the ballot this year.
The big question moving forward is what, if any, impact we can expect to trickle down into this year’s legislative races. There are quite a few legislators who hitched their horse to Dunleavy’s promises of a supersized PFD and supported his budget cuts who could find themselves in hot water this fall.
This week, two Outside groups have announced six-figure campaigns.
Americans for Prosperity announced a “six figure, state-wide campaign educating Alaskans about key policies that put Alaska on a path to prosperity.” It’s pretty much expected after the group hosted the governor’s townhalls last year, where they really pumped up the governor’s proposed constitutional spending limit and effective ban on new taxes.
Meanwhile, today, Stand Up America announced a “six-figure organizing campaign demanding that every senator (specifically Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski) vote to convict Donald Trump.” The announcement puts that six figures at $300,000 on national digital advertising. Here’s their plan:
- Launching a volunteer-driven peer-to-peer texting campaign in Alaska, which will use information from the voter file to drive calls to Sen. Murkowski’s office and educate tens of thousands of his constituents about the need to remove Trump from office
- Mobilizing our community of 2.5 million progressives in every state in the country to make calls to demand a fair Senate trial and Trump’s removal from office
- Driving constituents to visit Senate offices, including Sen. Murkowski’s, using our VisitThem tool
- Running digital ads targeting national audiences to drive calls to the Senate and educate the public about Trump’s impeachment and the Senate trial
OK. Enough about the recall and elections and junk.
Legislators are set to return to work on Tuesday at 1 p.m. with some of the biggest questions focusing on the outlook of the power structures in the House and Senate will survive all the end-of-session antics from last year as well as shakeups in committee assignments.
- There’s the usual chatter about an impending shakeup in the Republican House Minority, which has had new members join this year, and the Republican Senate Majority, which had members presumably exit last year. The Senate Majority is the more interesting of the two as it is getting into a tricky place if it jettisons the unruly Mat-Su Valley members and wants to stay a majority.
- Word is Rep. Ivy Spohnholz is the likely replacement for Rep. Adam Wool as the chair of the House Labor and Commerce Committee. Wool got promoted to the House Finance Committee after Rep. Tammie Wilson got the boot.
- As always, there’s been some questionable hires of staffers.
- Expect the subfinance committees to pretty fiery this year as they come loaded for bear on all the governor’s antics during the interim: Expect a lot of scrutiny on prisons, public safety and the courts.
- Word is the House isn’t particularly keen on loading up things with a bunch of new legislation. One legislator said the job feels more like “Limiting the bad” done by the administration.
This time of year is typically filled with legislators promising bipartisan cooperation and other wildly unrealistic things like being done in 90 days, but we actually saw some real-deal working across the aisle this week when a group of legislators signed onto a letter panning some proposed anti-apprenticeship(/anti-union) regulations.
Since writing about that, we’ve heard from a few sources that there’s considerable internal dissatisfaction with the proposed regulations and the general feeling is that they’re being driven by Deputy Commissioner Grey Mitchell, who’s generally seen as being anti-labor.
Some wonder how much the generally well-respected Department of Labor Commissioner Tamika Ledbetter is involved in the regulations and whether Mitchell is controlling the flow of information without fully communicating the implications of the changes.
The hope is that the letter from legislators will at the very least slow down the process a bit—as the concept of introducing a “trainee” program seems to be shoehorned into the regulations even though it’s a significant overhaul of Alaska’s labor process—and get some additional review.
Who knows, though.
Alaska Reads Act
Speaking of bipartisan efforts that might need some additional scrutiny, everyone came out with glowing assessments of Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Sen. Tom Begich’s Alaska Reads Act, an effort to make Alaskans who don’t read too good read better, but there’s a lot between the lines here.
Columnist Dermot Cole breaks down a lot of the unanswered questions about the legislation in this post, but the gist of it is concerns that it would ultimately focus on just holding back third graders who’ve fallen behind in reading.
Flunking is one of the techniques that automatically leads to higher fourth-grade reading scores because if the worst readers aren’t in fourth grade,” writes Cole, noting that the policy is favored by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
There’s also the question of whether this would end up being an unfunded mandate for schools, with the FAQ noting that it’s “Focusing existing state and/or federal funds.” We’ve since heard, though, that there is some new federal funding that’s expected to be a part of the legislation, but are still wary about the whole thing.
Hopefully legislators can put aside the rosy bipartisanship to ensure that they’re passing something that will actually work instead of just scamming up the reading numbers by holding back third-graders.
Congratulations to the Anchorage Daily News’s Kyle Hopkins for taking home the 15th annual John Jay College/Harry Frank Guggenheim awards for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting. Hopkins and the ADN teamed up with the ProPublica to produce the excellent “Lawless” series examining deficiencies in Alaska’s criminal justice system. The project got renewed for a second year and we’re looking forward to their continued work.
Pizza by air
Still, the best news story of the day comes from Alaska Public Media’s Abbey Collins, who got a first-hand look at the bustling pizza-by-plane business.