Welcome to the latest edition of Friday in the Sun, a mostly weekly mostly Friday column attempting to make sense of things in the Alaska political world. It’s a bit of rumor, a bit of gossip and padded with observations from a journalist-turned-blogger who’s been nerding out over this stuff for a while.
Stay safe, stay healthy and take care of yourselves. Have a nice weekend, everyone.
There were several surprising takeaways from Anchorage’s municipal election this week, which is still in the process of receiving and counting ballots so these things could still change. But as of Thursday night, all the results from election day still held.
All but one of the 10 bond packages on the ballot passed by pretty wide margins, affirming the many policies and priorities sent to the voters by the Anchorage Assembly and Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. None of these passed by extremely wide margins, but it shows a more mixed, lean-favor, attitude towards taxes and government services than folks in the Legislature might have you believe.
The other big surprise, particularly after last year’s drubbing, is the apparent passage of the 5 percent alcohol tax. Clearly tying the tax to a specific purpose helped this time around.
The failure of the on-site marijuana consumption isn’t entirely surprising but the ultrawide 30-point margin is. The marijuana industry didn’t stand up a significant campaign for the measure—which was put on there by the assembly—and its spending was dwarfed by the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.
From a business perspective, on-site consumption of marijuana still doesn’t make a ton of sense. The regulations for indoor smoking require a pretty serious investment in a separate room with monitoring capabilities and separate air system. All to sell, at most, about $20 of product at a time.
On the Anchorage Assembly, Assemblywoman Suzanne LaFrance holds a solid lead over conservative challenger Rick Castillo. It’s a sign that Anchorage, and more interestingly South Anchorage, is continuing to shift blue, the effects of which will be particularly interesting to watch for in this fall’s elections.
Assemblyman Felix Rivera is still barely beating conservative challenger Christine Hill, which isn’t great given that he’s in a far more progressive district than LaFrance. A few politicos we’ve talked to chalk it up to be more of a problem with Rivera’s popularity than any underlying shift in the district itself.
One explained he’s not the most responsive when it comes to constituent work, which can go a heckuva long way in elections (See Fairbanks Sen. Scott Kawasaki’s political career).
Eagle River will send Jamie Allard to the Anchorage Assembly, replacing outgoing Assemblyman Fred Dyson. Allard is, well, interesting:
On the school board front, Andy Holleman gets another term and so does Dave “Nothing Says Freedom Like Mandating the National Anthem in Schools” Donley.
Pray from work
It’s not entirely clear how many state employees are still being called into work in the offices, but wherever they are Gov. Mike Dunleavy would sure like them to do their part and lend a prayer.
“I am asking you—wherever you may be—to set aside a few minutes of your day as we come together to pray and focus our positive wishes on Alaska and all of humanity. This interfaith day of prayer and hope will allow Alaskans of all faiths and individual convictions to join as one and lift up our State,” the governor wrote.
The Midnight Sun’s resident cartoonist Pat Race summed up the ethical dilemma in the following series of tweets:
Thoughts and prayers
Sure, the whole thing is weird and uncomfortable to see a state-sponsored call to prayer but at least we got this out of it:
Yup, a link to the Recall Dunleavy campaign’s website and specifically the group’s recap of Dunleavy’s vetoes that were issued earlier this week. It’s sadly since been deleted, but it was up for longer than an hour, giving plenty of people time to make funny:
As for how that could possibly happen is puzzling. My best guess is that he did the ol’ “accidentally hit paste when you meant to hit copy and paste an old link into the address bar, replacing the address you meant to copy and the undo command doesn’t work and now you’re in deep and tweeting out a link to the campaign to recall your boss for several actions you cleared” move.
Who amongst us, no?
No curbside pick-up… for now
Alaska alcohol and marijuana businesses have been asking for the ability to do curbside pick-up for sales as well as several other regulatory changes that would help reduce the chance they help spread COVID-19. I spent the whole afternoon listening to the Marijuana Control Board’s emergency meeting–and not really writing this column–and the main takeaway is that, yes, they’re working on allowing these regulations but they’re not going to happen overnight.
The Marijuana Control Board left with the recommendation to get working on regulations that would allow curbside pickup and ease some of the rules regarding transportation of marijuana from wholesalers to retailers. They’ll take it up again next week with actual action.
Support local news
The one constant in this whole mess is the need for quality, accurate information. So here’s your regular reminder to SUPPORT LOCAL NEWS. Many people in the industry are working their asses off right now to tell truly important stories about what’s going on right now. They don’t have the luxury of hanging out entirely at home behind their keyboard in a home office they’ve been writing off for three years. They’re facing many of the challenges that we all are right now while serving an important role (there’s a lot of important roles right now, but this is just the one I happen to be familiar with).
Still, even with booming web traffic, I’m sure media everywhere is hurting as most traditional streams of revenue dry up and they put COVID-19 stories outside the paywall. The state’s largest paper this week cut pay and laid off seven employees. Support the news! Especially all you all with office accounts that can and should pay for news.
There’s really no other words to describe the comments of Rep. Jennifer Johnston this week when she talked about the dividend and Alaska Natives. She’s since apologized, House Speaker Bryce Edgmon released a statement aimed at keeping things together. Her actions in the Legislature have at least not mirrored her words and she does not seem to subscribe to the “They CHOOSE to live there so screw ’em” mentality we see from some in the Mat-Su Valley.
Still. It’s incredibly disappointing to see that kind of small-minded thinking from someone who others in the Legislature have invested so much trust and confidence in.
Some better news
One of the biggest things in shifting those shitty attitudes in the Legislature has been the elevation of younger Alaska Native legislators and the establishment of the special committee on Tribal Affairs. We’ve seen some surprising shifts from legislators who’ve sat in on those Tribal Affairs meetings and they’ve helped highlight inequities in Alaska. We don’t get better by ignoring our problems.
Anyways, a lot of people are really excited at the news that former legislative aide Elizabeth Niiqsik Ferguson, of Kotzebue, is running for House District 40. The seat is currently held by Rep. John Lincoln, who has already announced his plans to not seek reelection.
“Ultimately, I have realized that my lifelong love for our district and my experience working in the Legislature equips me with the knowledge and skills to serve our district well,” Ferguson wrote, according to an account by The Arctic Sounder.
Ferguson’s resume also includes four years of working for the Northwest Arctic Borough and serving as the Kotzebue Tribal Council’s first youth representative.
“I look forward to what the next several months have to offer,” Ferguson said. “I’m ready to step up and represent District 40 with all I’ve got.”