Friday in the Sun (Nov. 3): The “I am Alaska” edition

Friday in the Sun is here

Speculating on rumors and gossip surrounding Alaska politics is a time-honored tradition best done with a heaping helping of salt. It’s time for our weekly trip through the grand, gross, weird, wild and wonderful world of Alaska politics. (Also if you feel like you have something good, you can always shoot me a tip via email at matt at midnightsunak dot com.)

“I’m offended”

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski may be one of the Democrats’ favorite Republicans on health care, but when it comes to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge the they’re no friends to Republican’s favorite so-called RINO. The arrows and barbs flew throughout Thursday’s landmark hearing on opening ANWR to drilling, which included a Bernie Sanders tirade, an Al Franken litigation and, in Murkowski’s eyes, some plain old offensive innuendo by ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell.

Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, used her closing comments to the meeting “a sham,” and “It just ought to be clear that if people want to open the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, you ought to admit you’re going to destroy the wildlife refuge. … People should just choose if they want to drill and destroy or preserve.”

Murkowski fired back, “For those of us who call Alaska home to suggest that we would despoil our environment for short-term gain, I think is offensive. I’m offended.” Murkowski was so taken aback by the comments that she didn’t use her time to ask the committee any further questions (the meeting was already running long) and she adjourned, but not before promising that the meeting will continue with its open process and have an open markup before the proposal is moved to a full vote.

“I am Alaska”

Also at the hearing, Rep. Don Young did a very Don Young sort of thing.

Third time’s the charm (or is this the fourth?)

After testifying in support of opening ANWR, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is headed to China with President Donald Trump. Walker told reporters this week that he’s tagging along in hopes of signing a deal to sell Alaska’s natural gas and find an investor in the beleaguered AKLNG project.

“I would say this is probably the most significant opportunity we’ve had,” Walker said, as reported by the Juneau Empire. “We’ve been over on our own trade missions, but to be part of a larger trade mission … it expresses a much higher attention to Alaska in doing this.”

Walker’s previous trips both as governor and as member of the now-defunct Alaska Gasline Port Authority have reported interest, but have stopped short of official agreements and generated a fair amount of eyerolls. At the very least, we’ve heard the AKLNG project has caught the attention of the Trump administration.

We also heard that Walker had a lengthy talk with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke at EPA Director Scott Pruitt about resource development and ANWR during his visit to D.C. for Trump’s announcement on the opioid crisis last week.

Another administrative order

Walker announced an administrative order on climate change this week, and he’s reportedly considering another one to convene a working group of users of the Cook Inlet salmon population to find some common ground on its management.

$2.9 million

After submitting an indeterminate fiscal note on Senate Bill 54 that ranged between $1.6 million and $4.3 million annually, the Department of Corrections settled on a $2.9 million price tag for legislation as it emerged from the House Finance Committee. The bill reinstates tougher penalties on certain crimes–particularly first-time convictions for class C felonies and repeat petty thefts–and that is expected to send more people to prison each year. Corrections estimates the daily marginal cost of keeping another person behind bars is about $50 a day.

Though there were still elements of the bill that will have an unknown impact on the bill, it’s a far bit more honest to admit that tougher penalties will mean more people will land in prison. The bill is now headed to the House Floor.

First-class flyer

We’ve heard a certain tough-on-crime, fiscally conservative representative has been flying first class back and forth to Juneau. No word if he’s figured out how to pay for it on the state dime or maybe he just has a lot of airline miles. Either way, it’s an odd look for someone who’s such a self-styled conservative.

A good friend of the blog remembers the oh-so-popular Gov. Tony Knowles was famous for flying coach and for giving his commissioners or other high-ranking executive branch members a grin, a slap on the knee and say, “Nice seat!”

Another high flight

We missed this last week, but another friend tells us a legislator-filled flight headed down for session two weeks ago was also packing about 3.5 pounds of marijuana. To be very clear, the marijuana was there under non-legislative purposes and not in the possession of any legislator or legislative staff, though the person toting the tokables may have been seated next to a certain former judiciary chairwoman.

Your friendly neighborhood committeeman

Speaking of the House Judiciary Committee, the messy amendment process made possible with the hyperbole-armed Rep. Lora Reinbold and company didn’t carry over to the House Finance Committee this week despite some fears it would. The amendment process was relatively straight forward and calls for mutiny were nowhere to be heard. We’d like to give credit to the Finance co-chairs, particularly Rep. Neal Foster who might appear to be just your average mild-mannered committeeman by day, but sports what we’re told is a very impressive Superman costume by Halloween weekend.

A timely costume

If you need any tips for next year, we suggest checking out the suggestions over at Libby Bakalar’s One Hot Mess.

Something in common

What does hard-line conservative Rep. Lora Reinbold and progressive Anchorage columnist John Aronno have in common? They both were commended by the ACLU of Alaska for their work on criminal justice reform this week.

One of those is a little less surprising than the other. Also, go check out Aronno’s column: “YIELD: A hot mess — and a charade.”

Best wishes

Former House Speaker Mike Chenault departed Juneau this week to spend time with his daughter, who had surgery this week down in Seattle. Chenault announced his departure on Facebook, saying “It’s more important to me that I be there for my family despite the Legislature being in special session. Just wanted everyone to know in the event you didn’t see me on the floor and participating in committee meetings. I thank everyone for their well wishes and prayers.” He later announced that the surgery went as planned and “so far everything’s good.” We’re glad to hear.

Just your classic knife story

Turns out fishing and holding a knife to one of the most powerful people in Washington, D.C. (at the time) have something in common, at least if you’re Don Young. Following the headlines that he held a knife to former House Speaker John Boehner’s throat over one barb too many on the “Bridge to Nowhere,” Young laughed it off.

Following the filings

It’s been a quiet week for candidate filings. As we speculated last week, it turns out moderate Fairbanks Sen. Click Bishop is not running for governor and will be seeking reelection in 2018.

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