Welcome to Friday in the Sun, our weekly column attempting to bring whatever sense we can to an incredibly exhausting and deeply troubling week in Alaska politics.
On a programming note, thanks for bearing with me this week as I’ve been busy with the ol’ pick-up-the-phone-and-interview-people thing for a change of pace. I should have that piece out this Sunday… maybe Monday.
Until then, enjoy the wonderful weather this weekend, be grateful for the people and pets in your bubble and, as always, keep watchin’ the skies. Tips, tricks and useful lifehacks (like telling me how to use spellcheck) can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back to Juneau
Nothing can ever be simple with the Alaska Legislature.
After spending three frustrating weeks of internal battling over the proper way to distribute nearly $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief money to local governments and small businesses, the Legislature on Monday chose the least-legal approach of using the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee’s RPL process to approve the money.
This was over the warnings of the Legislature’s legal and fiscal analysts, as well as Chair Rep. Chris Tuck who said during the meeting that he had pushed for a return to Juneau weeks ago only for his suggestions to be quashed by someone else. Though Tuck is not really in a great position of moral superiority after an outburst directed at Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, got out of hand in a “Maybe, I should just retire to spend time with my family” kind of way.
Anyways, the camp of “These are unprecedented times and we need to get the money out sooner rather than later” won the day with the prevailing argument of “Let’s just all look the other way.”
Well it turns out that attorney Joe Geldhof on behalf of former University of Alaska regent Eric Forrer, a duo who’ve got a knack for sniffing out legally dubious actions by the Legislature and filing lawsuits, weren’t willing to look the other way. On Wednesday, the hypothetical legal challenge became a reality when they sued to tie up the funds, calling for the Legislature to do its job and return to Juneau.
(I’ve heard speculation that Geldhof and Forrer may have had an inside line on putting together their legal argument, but honestly this whole challenge is about as close to paint-by-numbers as you can get. The Legislature has already clearly laid out why none of this is legal and no one, including the administration, could have been bothered to muster some kind of argument in favor.)
Now, the Legislature is set to return on Monday for what everyone hopes–but no one should honestly believe–will be a quick turn-and-burn to ratify their spending and nullify the lawsuit.
The hope is that the Legislature will be able to approve the spending through the ratification process but as I’ve written before, there’s a huge difference between hope and reality with the Legislature. As Rep. David “Not Quite so Terrible Now, Huh?” Eastman (more that nickname below) has proved several times, there’s a helluva lot of antics you can get to on the floor. How about a motion to add in a supplemental PFD? What about restoring those vetoes? Is the governor’s distributions to communities really all that fair and equitable? How about those initiatives or that education bill or the capital budget?
It’s likely all of those reasons–not exactly the pandemic itself–that has sidelined the Legislature’s return to session. Wouldn’t a lot of Republicans much rather stand for election largely on last year’s heroics and not register a vote defending the governor’s second round of vetoes that not only hit the ferry system, local governments and public broadcasting but also K-12 education?
Oh, and we hear that very few staffers are being told to return to Juneau so legislators will be largely left to their own devices.
Anyways, pop some popcorn because this ought to get interesting.
Well, it’s already interesting…
What an asshole
With the end of the session coming up soon, we’ll be launching our latest edition of “The Good, The Bad and, wait, Who?” legislator rankings and judging by an internal email thread—circulated by the Alaska Landmine on Twitter—there’s a new frontrunner for the worst legislator in the building.
But first, we want to give a nod to repeat winner of “The Bad” award Rep. David Eastman who is at least sparing us of hyperventilating Nazi references when it comes to the health plans for the Alaska Legislature to reconvene. Eastman, one of the earliest in Alaska to don a mask, has been the rare conservative who’s been able to set aside rank partisanship to follow the medical advice and post things like “Wear a mask in any public place. Just do it,” to his Facebook page.
He told the Anchorage Daily News for its report about people refusing to wear masks that the science is still out on COVID-19 and it’s better to just be safe.
“We just don’t know what the long-term health consequences of this are,” he said. “People are recovering but we don’t know if they’re going to reach a point where their lungs aren’t recovering anymore … until we can get through this and get more accurate data, I think it’s important that we take precautions.”
Unfortunately, Eastman is on the outs with the House Minority for being a general jerkwad on the House floor (so don’t move him too far up the rankings as the difference, in the grand scheme of things, is minimal) and hasn’t been invited to the group chats about returning to session, leaving Reps. Ben Carpenter and Sarah Vance to fill the void.
Carpenter, the brain genius he is, responded to the precautions with the following email that was acquired and published first by The Alaska Landmine:
“What is the screening process? How about an arm band that won’t fall off like a sticker will? If my sticker falls off, do I get a new one or do I get public shaming too? Are the stickers available as a yellow Star of David?”
Rep. Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks, is Jewish and doesn’t tolerate that kind of shit.
“This is disgusting. Keep your Holocaust jokes to yourself,” he fired back.
Vance, who’s being challenged by on all accounts decent person Kelly Cooper (who to our knowledge hasn’t floated off-the-deep-end conspiracy theories about the state inflating the COVID-19 numbers and hasn’t smugly belittled school children on social media), goose stepped to Carpenter’s defense:
“Grier, This is no joke. We should all be concerned about the implications of being labeled as ‘non compliant’ or wearing a badge of ‘compliance.’”
“Putting other people at risk because somebody doesn’t want to get a medical test to make sure they’re not carrying a disease that will kill others is NOT the same as labeling and targeting a group of people for genocide through hatred and ignorance,” he wrote. “That was a flippant, ignorant and disgusting remark. If somebody wants to comment about their constitutional rights, fine. We can disagree about that. But do NOT joke about how testing for a virus equates to genocide.”
And if that wasn’t enough—because why would anything be enough—when asked about it by the Anchorage Daily News, Carpenter threw in a little bit of “WELL, ACTUALLY” about Hitler.
“Can you or I — can we even say it is totally out of the realm of possibility that COVID-19 patients will be rounded up and taken somewhere?” he said. “People want to say Hitler was a white supremacist. No. He was fearful of the Jewish nation, and that drove him into some unfathomable atrocities.”
To which Hopkins replied, still somehow without any profanities:
“That’s not what led to the Holocaust,” Hopkins told the paper. “There was no Jewish nation at that time. It didn’t exist. And using that term is anti-Semitic and a misunderstanding of history.”
Now we’re wondering. Is Rep. Carpenter defending Nazis from being white supremacists? Or defending white supremacists from being Nazis?
Oh, and for the record here’s the health protocols in question:
In these unprecedented times
In these unprecedented times, is it too much to ask our state government to give a dang break from having to worry about everything? Here’s a few things on the radar:
- The state is moving ahead with steps to ink a contract with Illinois-based Clark Baird Smith for collective bargaining counsel. This appears to be more related to contract negotiations than the Attorney General Kevin Clarkson’s Janus lawsuit, but if you need a sense of the direction they’re going in, Clark Baird Smith has popped up in the news to defend an Illinois town’s firing of a pregnant police officer and another town’s attempt to deny survivor benefits to the son of an officer who died on the job because the officer was divorced.
- Department of Natural Resources Commissioner and person who’s in charge of permitting and regulating resource projects Corri Feige penned an effusive editorial about the deeply controversial Ambler Road, which the state seems dead-set on pushing ahead with even though, you now, everything. This follows the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority Board’s use of an emergency pandemic meeting to shift $35 million into the project’s fund. At the time, CEO Tom Boutin seemed to be saying the quiet part out loud when he admitted it was just timely and not at all an emergency. He was shown the door shortly afterward.
- There’s certainly something… hinky going on with Alaska’s elections as pointed out in a Twitter thread by Anchorage Assemblyman Forrest Dunbar. Dunbar relayed how there appears to be a campaign to gin up pushback to a by-mail election as permitted by the Legislature’s emergency extension. It should be noted for all the handwringing about the fraud and partisan-bent of by-mail elections, a recent study says it doesn’t appear to really be to anyone’s political advantage. (Oh, surprise, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer says everything’s fine and the August election will be held in-person. You can still request a by-mail absentee ballot, as a lot of Republican voters tend to do, from the state)
‘He stood silently behind’
The New York Times’ piece on Trump’s efforts to dismantle the U.S. Postal Service contains a real portrait in standing up for Alaska in tough political situations with the following line about U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan:
Congressional Republicans who represent rural areas where the daily mail is an economic and medical lifeline have been some of the agency’s biggest supporters, and they could face political consequences for embracing the president’s position.
Take Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska. He stood silently behind Mr. Trump in the Oval Office when the president threatened to block emergency aid to the Postal Service late last month.
But in Alaska, the mail is a vital commodity, delivering goods to remote areas that commercial delivery companies do not serve. On a tele-town hall with constituents recently, Mr. Sullivan said he would defend the Postal Service against any potential cuts.
Ah, in the immortal words of Ted “To hell with politics, just do what’s right for Alaska… as long as it doesn’t upset our thin-skinned president.”
That’s the constitutional limit to the legislative session. Legislators can extend it by up to 10 days with a two-thirds (i.e., nigh impossible given current circumstances) vote. If things aren’t settled by then, either the Legislature or the governor could call a special session to force them to complete their business with the CARES Act funding.
Whenever the session is finally over, legislators will get to get back to fundraising as they’re freed of the prohibition on fundraising and campaigning while session is in order.
Hopefully they take all the time they need in Juneau to get things right.
Speaking of campaign season, KINY reported last month that Anchorage resident Michael Chambers had been dinged by APOC for failing to put a paid for by disclaimer on his website rinosafari.com. The fine comes to the tune of $1,250, which is $50 per day that the site went without a disclaimer.
The site’s meant to shame those dang ol’ Republicans in Name Only like Rep. Gary Knopp, Sen. Cathy Giessel and… Rep. Mark Neuman?
Anyways, the page boosts your usual cadre of als0-ran far-right conservatives complete with laughably childish rhino pictures. However there’s one interesting exception that caught our eyes, the promotion of Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblywoman Marna Sanford, an independent, over North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill.
“Many people may ask why Marna exists on this page as all other candidates are registered Republicans. Well first, she is a very unique Alaskan politician in that she is refreshingly honest. This probably comes from the fact that she was raised in Tok, Alaska,” Chambers writes. “Marna seems to want to promote an agenda for Alaskans, not for an ‘identified party.’ She is running as an Independent which usually is “code speak” for Democrat, but she may well be a true independent. … I find her approach very refreshing as she is willing to have an intelligent conversation with anyone and listen to multiple sides of complex issues such as the PFD and the State Budget.”
Well, there ya go. Guess we can still be surprised by Alaska politics.
Have a nice weekend y’all.