With everything going on, a gossip- and rumor-heavy column doesn’t seem like a particularly responsible thing to do. So, we’ll keep it light and short this week.
For the best and most up-to-date information, look to your public health officials and your staffed newsrooms like the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Public Media, KTOO, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, KTUU, KTVA and everyone else.
Legislature closed to the public
The House and Senate both voted today to hand over to the Alaska Legislative Council’s chair Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, and vice chair Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, the power to close or limit public in-person access to the Alaska Legislature, which they did this afternoon.
The order bars all access to the capitol building except for legislators, legislative employees, the governor’s administration and credentialed journalists. With the budget and several other key items still on the agenda, the Legislature is hoping to continue to operate as normally as possible for as long as possible.
It’s not a surprise following U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s cancellation of his visit and the Senate Finance Committee’s plan to take all testimony by phone (its budget public testimony starts on Wednesday, by the way).
Leadership says they don’t currently plan on adjourning early, but next week’s schedule sure looks a lot like the schedule you’d seen in the final few weeks of session when work is largely focused in the Finance committees.
It’s currently day 52.
The Senate’s passage of the emergency rules was extremely smooth, but the House has a more belabored process because of course. Rep. David “I’ve already been prepping and, no, you can’t have any toilet paper” Eastman raised some issues about it being open ended delegation of power.
What was more surprising were the protests from Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, who downplayed the risk to Alaska, saying the people who have died in the U.S. would have had a problem with the common cold. He said the Legislature should also wait until there’s a second case or something else changes.
“I’m just worried about how the public is going to react to our reaction,” he said. “What I see as the true epidemic is people’s reaction to the scare, to the fear.”
Several people popped out of the word work to send me messages highlighting Tuck’s surprisingly luddite approach to science. One noted he’s an anti-vaxxer and another said something not so repeatable in polite company.
Well, I guess Rep. Lance Pruitt was onto something when he claimed right after the election as the Alaska Miners Association breakfast that feds were looking into Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux’s election and that her fingerprints were all over some damning evidence. It just took a while for the charges to land.
LeDoux, her former chief of staff Lisa Simpson, nee Vaught, and her adult son are on the receiving end of 17 charges ranging from felonies to misdemeanors. The news came in the middle of the House’s floor session where they were debating House Bill 221, which would have the state formally recognize tribes.
The session went to an at-ease as legislators digested the news and returned to take an immediate vote to end the floor session. LeDoux, who had been present for the earlier votes, was gone for the vote.
Later, she released a statement:
“Earlier today, I learned of the charges from the Department of Law. Because this is a pending legal matter, I cannot comment about the details other than to state that I am innocent of all charges and look forward to clearing my name in a court of law.”
There’s a ton to unpack here, but the key takeaway is that it certainly makes the House District 15 race more interesting. The state is claiming that it has nothing to do with politics, but LeDoux has long been at odds with the Republican establishment.
LeDoux would certainly face a tough task for reelection, especially with the likelihood that this case will drag out into campaign season, and it could bolster Democrats’ hopes of picking up the seat. It will all depend on who they back.
Still, all this sudden focus on voter eligibility ought to really sting for anyone involved in last year’s race for House District 1 where at least a few votes came from people who were voting from their business address in the district. Republican Rep. Bart LeBon won that seat by a single vote.
As has been true on the federal level, the coronavirus has laid bare the problems with dismantling government and slashing social safety nets. The governor’s administration certainly gets an A for effort, so far, but the lack of an experienced press secretary has become pretty evident, especially at yesterday’s news conference announcing the state’s first confirmed case.
The protection of a patients’ personal safety is understandable, but some of the gaps in yesterday’s news conference—things that should have been answered with some clarity such as the patient’s timeline in Anchorage—could have easily gotten away from them and sparked panic. Luckily, it seems that most of the press was able to read between the lines—and aware of the rumors—to not ring the alarm bells that the person might have gone through the commercial terminal at the airport.
The case comes from a cargo pilot who, according to Dr. Anne Zink, did an “amazing job” at limiting contact with anyone else during his time at the cargo terminal, the Anchorage Sheraton Hotel (the hotel was the one to disclose the news) and Alaska Regional Hospital.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy has called for calm, calling the event a “momentary glitch,” a “bump in the road” and that “it’s not the end of the world” but has also acknowledged that coronavirus is already here and spreading.
The state says that its testing is “robust,” but given the news on the federal level of what appears to be an intentional slow-roll of testing on the federal level to suppress numbers it’s hard to be entirely confident in that claim. There’s also been rumblings about just how difficult it is to get a test, with some turning to private testing. It might explain the rapid response in Alaska, which has included limiting access to Pioneer Homes, shutting down K-12 schools through March 30 and Anchorage’s closure of the library and other public venues.
What’s also been frustrating is governor’s “we’ll deal with it later” approach to any of the economic impacts on Alaska. The concerns that Alaska could be in serious, deep economic trouble thanks to the panic Outside is very, very real.
This pain will not only hit the big players like the oil industry or the cruise industry or the state’s budget but small businesses throughout Alaska and their employees, where bailouts and cash infusions to the stock market aren’t likely to reach. And what about rural Alaska, which relies on long and expensive supply lines for everything from food to fuel.
We hope these conversations will be happening soon and with serious consideration to make sure the resources land where they’re most needed or else this “bump in the road” could be the feeling of the road disappearing beneath our wheels as we head off the cliff.
While we’re all on this bumpy road together, be kind to each other, help out where you can, wash your hands until they’re raw and catch up on your video game backlog. Take care.