Saturday in the Sun (Feb. 29): The ‘David, get out of here!’ edition

Friday in the Sun is here

Welcome to another edition of Saturday in the Sun. Your latest and sometimes greatest column attempting to make sense of the week that was in Alaska politics.

It’s been a week. The operating budget is out of the House Finance Committee, the recall is underway and a dozen other things are vying for attention. Let’s get to it.

As always, you can reach me with corrections, typos and tips at matt@midnightsunak.com.

‘David, get out of here!’

Was a thing reportedly yelled by House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt at two-time last-place finisher in The Midnight Sun’s annual legislator rankings, Rep. David Eastman, during a dramatic break from a dramatic floor session on Wednesday.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, House Rules Committee chair Rep. Chuck Kopp and pretty much everyone else in the chamber had had it with Eastman’s latest round of divisive and ultimately dilatory amendments. Never to miss an opportunity to drive the anti-abortion wedge into politics, Eastman sought to do a Dunleavy by punishing the courts for striking down the medically necessary abortion law.

This time, it wasn’t just the abortion funding but the settlement payment to Planned Parenthood that was awarded attorney fees as the prevailing party, you know, as happens with pretty much every other lawsuit. It would have been a ridiculous breach of norms and rule of law that not even the most Eastman-y of House Republicans were willing to sign off on.

So, like most amendments offered by Eastman, it was about making a scene, and, to his credit, it made a scene, one culminating with feverish chatter about him potentially getting ejected from the chamber.

Seemingly intent on injecting as much anti-court, anti-abortion onto the House floor as possible, Eastman found himself on the receiving end of several warnings from Edgmon, motions from Kopp and others. Eastman stubbornly kept it up, drawing out the floor session and erasing the last bit of patience from his own caucus as he refused to take his seat.

“As the presiding officer I have many ways to deal with a situation like this. There are many rules, and one of them is I can bring it to the full of the body whether your standing is just or not. I am very confident if I did so, I would get the votes I need,” Edgmon said, adding that he’d allow Eastman to speak to the amendment. “If you continue to stray into other areas, which you have done repeatedly not just today but day in and day out, then I think I’m going to seek the body’s assistance in overruling you.”

After the lengthy at-ease, the House voted down the amendment and Eastman mostly kept his mouth shut for the rest of the passage of the supplemental budget, which cleared what could have been its own tricky three-quarter vote threshold with plenty of room to spare.

For most, it was another round of usual Eastman antics but you shouldn’t write off the “David, get out of here!”-ness of it all. While fellow minority Republicans have generally tolerated Eastman’s efforts to delay and frustrate Speaker Edgmon, they’ve not appreciated when Eastman and his allies turn on them.

The Eastman-affiliated far-right Alaska Right to Life has been going after several minority Republicans this year, taking any anti-abortion related vote as sign that various Republicans aren’t truly anti-abortion. Forget any nuance or context with the votes, either. And, coincidentally, it just so happens most of those votes were brought up by Eastman.

A lot of this infighting has been reserved to conservative circles, with Alaska Right to Life trading shots with Must Read Alaska (which they call a “RINO rag” so that ought to give you a good idea of how this fight is shaping up).

MRA’s relatively benign account of the vote, mentions how the minority met to discuss “Eastman’s behavior” adding, “After the session ended, discussions continued as to the fate of Eastman, who had apparently worn on every last nerve of some of his fellow legislators. Those talks are underway in the Capitol.”

To which, Alaska Right to Life took to Facebook to sing Eastman’s praises and put everyone else on blast.

“What I saw was one man stand tall and fight for our liberties and the lives of babies waiting to be born in the face of Planned Parenthood proxies’ best efforts to further corrupt our representative and republican form of government while the other members of the House Minority Caucus (those are Republicans, in case you didn’t know) sat on their hands and watched the lone warrior on our side do battle with men and women who get paid to sanction baby killing.”

Yup.

A lot of this action has Republicans on the defensive. The Minority Republicans held a news conference earlier in the session to stand up for Rep. Kelly Merrick in the face of criticism because she voted against yanking one of Eastman’s bills from committee, which we wrote about in the last column, and other legislators have also referenced “false things written about me” when it comes to abortion.

And that’s not to mention that Eastman is largely responsible for the minority status of the majority of House Republicans, a fact that is clearly not soon to be forgotten according to an excellent column, Why Republicans can’t govern,” by an anonymous staffer published by the Alaska Landmine.

“Today’s policymakers are left with two kinds of choices: the irresponsible and the unpopular,” explains the unnamed staffer. “None of these options appeal to political opportunists, who are more interested in using the legislature as a platform for self-promotion than serving the public interest. The Eastmans of the world aren’t all that interested in legislative majorities because they’re not all that interested in passing legislation. Or holding positions of power, where they may be held accountable. The legislature, to this type, is a place to build a public profile, to become a minor celebrity, to establish a brand.”

Not mentioned in the column are Eastman’s close ties to Alaska Right to Life, the fact that Eastman circulated recall information targeting Rep. Gary Knopp when he was on the fence about the 21-member Republican majority and his potential to create headaches this election year.

The fear for mainstream-ish Republicans is that all of this could lead to far-right primary challenges that if they don’t hand over districts to Democrats in the general will at the very least make it that much more difficult to govern with a Republican majority.

The column goes a long way to explaining why dealing with Eastman is so difficult. Registering 39-NEASTMAN or YEASTMAN-39 votes doesn’t hurt him. In fact, it serves his brand as the brave outsider who’s willing to buck the system and speak truth to power. Sure, it may come off as bizzaro tantrums but since when has nuance mattered?

Anyways, that’s all to say we’ll be getting more Eastman for the rest of the session because he got a new desk after being seated in the “least desirable seat on the House Floor” right under the Gavel Alaska cameras thanks to the arrival of Rep. Mike Prax, which he wrote about at length on davideastman.org (which is also your go-to source for coronavirus-induced face mask shortages because, sure, why not).

We laughed at these shots from Wednesday’s floor session, but after all that I have a sneaking suspicion they’re serving him just fine.

The Recall

The second stage of the effort to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy is officially underway with a ton of locations to sign, as well as plenty of petition-carrying rabble-rousers out there. Though you’ve been able to sign throughout the week, it largely kicked off today with reportedly pretty good, steady turnout throughout the day.

For Recall Dunleavy, the turnout has to be a good sign especially when people aren’t quite as fired up a they were immediately after the recalls last summer.

It comes with news that John Binkley, father of Anchorage Daily News owners, is launching his own anti-recall group. Binkley told KTUU that he has problems with the process and is not necessarily supportive of Dunleavy, which is not only pretty meaningless–especially when it’s followed with a quote about how Dunleavy’s getting better at the job–but also kind of edges into the dangerous territory of putting the court system on blast.

The withdrawal of Stand Tall with Mike from the lawsuit came with an unsigned statement blasting the courts for what they saw as an unfair process, an idea that Dunleavy hasn’t entirely rejected. When matched with the governor’s vetoes of the court system, it’s, well, not great.

And though Binkley is not personally involved with owning and running the state’s largest newspaper, his children are. It’s left reporters and editors at the paper defending their coverage, which is never a place you want to be in. As a former newspaper reporter, it sucks. You can make all the reasoned arguments you can about editorial separation and integrity but you won’t convince everyone.

‘I was the best TA that ever walked in that communication department’ (updated for clarity)

When it comes to confirmation hearing drama, the University of Alaska’s student regent position is not usually a source of drama. But this is Dunleavy’s appointees we’re talking about so of course it got weird.

The Alaska Landmine has a rundown of Student Regent Cachet Garrett’s hearing in front of the Senate Finance Committee this week. There’s some issues legislators raised like her inclusion of political aspirations and something about a teaching assistant position. But to set the scene, it including lines like this one comparing the state of the university to a caterpillar:

“Imagine, if you will, a caterpillar. And I do not wish to demean this beautiful caterpillar. But I just want to acknowledge that it is limited to the ground and the plants that it can climb upon. We are a caterpillar in a cocoon right now. We are going through a metamorphosis. In this process the caterpillar literally metabolizes itself as it grows a new body and becomes something improved. It’s a painful process. The caterpillar emerges a beautiful, high flying butterfly,” she said.

She sparred a bit with Sen. Bill Wielechowski over her time as a teaching assistant with the communication’s department. Wielechowski brought up the issue in a “I have a pretty good idea of the answer, but I want to see how you’ll answer this” way that took some back and forth before she conceded that, while not going into specifics, she had been asked by the department head to step aside. She defender her time there like this:

“I will say that I was the best TA that ever walked in that communication department, and it’s a disservice to the students that could have studied with me, to be perfectly honest. But it’s ok. I positively impacted the lives of the nineteen students that I taught that first semester. And they sing my praises. And they loved that I taught them. I taught them way more public speaking. I taught them improvisation to warm them up and get them out of their way. I taught them advocacy and empowerment. And I taught them to be prepared, you know, in the state of crisis. It’s apropos that I was asked to not return as a TA, but to indeed continue studying in the program because it’s opened the door for what I’m really meant to be doing.”

As far as confirmation hearings go, it wasn’t great. How you handle those interactions in front of legislators does a lot to either ease concerns or confirm red flags. Odd responses, combative attitudes and unanswered questions don’t help as we saw time after time last year. Will it matter here? Not sure, but it might give fodder to skeptical legislators.

Garrett’s time on the UA Board of Regents has been, well, mixed. She fought against consolidation of the university system and frequently criticized how the university administration was handling the process.

She’d be up for confirmation when the Legislature meets later this year in joint session to either confirm or reject appointments the governor made since last year’s session.

An ‘unorthodox request’

Oh, almost forgot.

Palmer City Council Councilman Richard Best reportedly phoned the Palmer Police Department on the early morning of Jan. 10 to request that they have a squad car head over to his home to play Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” through the car’s loudspeaker.

The transcript of the phone call was acquired by the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, showing Best describe it as an “unorthodox request” and a “grand gesture” to his wife before he left to Juneau to work as chief of staff to Rep. Ben Carpenter.

“Are you familiar with the movie ‘Say Anything’?” Best asked the Palmer Police officer, who also added during the call that he’d be willing to pay the fine for public disturbance. “With John Cusack holding the stereo above his head.”

The request was, unsurprisingly, rejected and Best has, unsurprisingly, told the Frontiersman he feels no remorse over the incident.

“In no means, I called as an individual citizen,” Best told the paper. “There was no me putting myself as an elected official into anything. I didn’t ask for any special favors.”

The whole thing came up at this week’s council meeting, where some members critical of Best, calling for an apology and the creation of a code of ethics for the council, while others said nothing.

Councilwoman Sabrena Combs implored Mayor Edna DeVries to admonish Best, noting that he’s the type who talks about trust between the office and constituents.

“Many times I’ve heard him speak, including directly to me on this council about how important the perception of our actions is to our constituents and that regardless if it’s written in code or not, we should be transparent and ethical at all times,” said Sabrena Combs. “That being said, I hope that you madam mayor choose to publicly admonish his behavior on the record.”

DeVries was in the group that said nothing.

Campaign figures

I spent all Friday digging through campaign finance data to build a database that also could dive a little deeper than what the reports say. I’ll have that, hopefully, polished up for Monday. For now, here’s the takeaway from the top of the list:

Liz Snyder $85,284.91
Natasha von Imhof $82,662.87
Josh Revak $56,843
Mel Gillis $47,165
Sara Rasmussen $45,560
Gabrielle LeDoux $44,899
Matt Claman $41,600.08
Tom Begich $35,223.64
Cathy Giessel $30,786.49
Kelly Merrick $30,136.95

Yep, Anchorage Democrat Liz Snyder has the numbers to back up her talk about strong fundraising. Snyder came super close to beating Rep. Lance Pruitt in the 2018 elections, which was before Pruitt cozied up with Dunleavy. Pruitt has yet to begin any fundraising.

And with that, smell all ya’ll later! Have a nice weekend.

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