Friday in the Sun (June 23, 2017): Dark days at the ADN, an opportune abortion cut and a bill signing snub

Friday in the Sun is here

Speculating on rumors and gossip surrounding Alaska politics is a time-honored tradition. It’s time for our weekly trip through the grand, gross, weird, wild and wonderful world of Alaska politics. It’s time for Friday in the Sun.

Dispatch News dilemmas

There’s been a lot of talk going around about the Alaska Dispatch News and its finances. Apparently it’s not going so well and the ADN is considering a shakeup. The trouble over the outlet’s new and old printing presses—old one in the now GCI-owned building—are causing plenty of headaches, both financial and logistical. Word is there’s no clear resolution in sight for either, bills are piling up and lawyers are likely getting involved in both cases.

A common thread of the rumors is the possibility the ADN could soon be changing ownership, with the most commonly mentioned and most plausible buyer being Morris Communications. Morris owns the Juneau Empire, the Alaska Journal of Commerce and The Peninsula Clarion. Its owners are conservative and had its publications run pro-Trump editorials in last year’s elections. It’d certainly be a big change.

Craig Medred—a longtime facet of the Anchorage Daily News, former pillar of the Alaska Dispatch and current news blogger—documented much of this in a post this week. He makes much ado about a reader survey that went out in the Monday edition of the ADN that asked readers to tell them “what you absolutely can’t live without in the newspaper and what you’d remove if you were in our shoes.” The paper cut Saturday service at the start of this year and put up a paywall.

Also included in Medred’s post is an interesting nugget about his firing and some insight into the post-merger ADN: “The Dispatch firing, while unpleasant for both parties, was a reasonable business decision based on Rogoff’s stated believe at that time that the key to success in the Anchorage media market was to produce a less controversial news product.”

Ouch. It’s a good read, but it’ll likely fulfill your recommended dietary allowance of salt.

It’s impossible to parse out the plausible rumors from the mean-spirited gossip in this case. There are plenty of people with axes to grind against the ADN and its owner Alice Rogoff. It’s likely that it’s not as wild or dire of a situation some of the talk would suggest, but that’s not to say folks at the ADN aren’t nervous.

Reply-all reprimand

Some overeager state employees in Juneau thought it prudent to use official communication channels to organize a demonstration outside the Legislature on Thursday. This is, of course, totally against state rules. It’s particularly ill-advised because a budget was so clearly coming together on Thursday. A couple dozen state employees holding signs outside the Legislature wasn’t going to change anything.

Department of Administration Commissioner Sheldon Fisher had to send out an email, advising everyone that “BREAKTIME READING: Thursday Legislature Rally” was not an appropriate use of the Juneau state employee mailing list.

Also, it appeared to be a grave violation of the common email courtesy with many state employees hitting the reply all button.

In the words of Taylor Swift: “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative, one that I have never asked to be a part of.”

Abortion funding axed

The operating budget closeout went smoothly over the last few days, save for the one line attached to abortion funding. The committee cut about $153,000 to cover abortion services offered in Fiscal Year 16. It was a reversal from the initial budget deal offered the day before that restored the Senate-made cut. It’s likely the money was put back in to appease House minority Republicans and get them on board with the three-quarter vote needed to tap the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve.

The Senate Finance Subcommittee chaired by Sen. Peter Micciche cut the funding and also proposed budget language that would have limited state abortion funding to the dubious “medically necessary” category. The language didn’t survive. People don’t seem to be sweating it too much, as the Department of Health and Social Services can reallocate money.

Moving expense matters

Word is the Legislative Council was considering taking up some sort of action on Sen. Donny Olson‘s moving expenses this week. Olson continually makes headlines for his exorbitant moving expenses, but the council decided not to take it up.

Republican election rout

Republicans demonstrated again, in the Homer City Council recall, that they don’t understand how to win a municipal election. All three members survived the dubious recall effort by pretty safe margins. Legislative and statewide election prowess doesn’t translate to local success.

Anchorage staffing absence

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz still hasn’t filled his chief of staff position. Word is Charles Fedullo from Strategies 360 is coming over to do a communications audit.

Bill signing burn

Gov. Bill Walker and a handful of legislators made the trek up to North Pole this week to sign the much-delayed survivor benefits bill. It featured heavily in the race for the North Pole senate seat, with Sen. John Coghill facing most of the blame for the bill’s failure to pass in 2016. Though Coghill’s work to get the bill passed this time around was recognized by most, it was conspicuously absent from the thank-yous delivered by Public Safety Employees Association head Jake Metcalfe.

By most accounts the blame should spread broadly across the Republican Senate for refusing to pass any bill with a fiscal note during the 2016 session, regardless of its merits. Coghill was part of the leadership, and took the fallout on the chin. He played an important role in getting it through a tough Senate this year.

Still unresolved is survivor benefits for first responders not employed by the state. Fire fighters are the biggest group left out in the cold on this, and there’s talk of new legislation next year.

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