The Alaska House churned through the weekend on amendments to the criminal justice reform rollback that is Senate Bill 54, but stopped short of adopting a broad repeal of Senate Bill 91. It was one of the highest-profile votes of the weekend, and it prompted a startling threat targeted at legislators.
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon announced Saturday afternoon that he and House Minority Leader Charisse Millett reached out to law enforcement regarding a threat to “steal and vandalize” the vehicles of the legislators who voted against the repeal amendment, which failed on a 27N-13Y vote.
“We contacted the chief security officer here in the capitol in relation to a posting on social media suggesting that there be retaliation against members of this body for actions that were taking on earlier amendments,” he said.
Edgmon then turned his attention to the Legislature, warning members of public and—interestingly—legislators themselves (we’ll have more on this below) that such threats will not be tolerated.
“My message to you is precautionary,” he said. “I’m speaking to you not only as a legislative chamber and the rules of protocol and decorum we are asked to follow, but as well to any member of the general public, we encourage to participate, we encourage you to follow this process. … That said any sort of suggestion of retaliation, for lack of a better word, from anybody in this body or the general public will be dealt with swiftly and immediately.”
The threat in question
Shortly after the announcement, screenshots of a post made to the Facebook page of Rep. Chris Birch, an Anchorage Republican who voted against the repeal of Senate Bill 91, by an account belonging to Ashley Dahm began circulating. Sources confirm this was the post that prompted Edgmon’s response.
“I openly call for every Alaskan to steal and vandalize each one of these Senators’ vehicles since they refuse to repeal SB 91 and coddle the guilty. Fair game now to shoot thieves on the spot in the act from this. You don’t want to protect the innocent, gloves come off now,” the post said.
Though the list of legislators appears similar in style to other lists circulated by hard-line legislators, that specific image doesn’t appear to have been posted by any legislators prior to the threat.
Legislators were quick to distance themselves from the threats, as did Rep. Cathy Tilton in a Facebook post that said “this kind of behavior is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” but their rhetoric has certainly planted the seeds for this kind of behavior to blossom.
Skim through Rep. Lora Reinbold’s Facebook post and you’ll find lists of legislators who voted for the bill, including a few posts that name aides named directly.
In a bit of foreshadowing, Rep. Lance Pruitt demanded to know whether any members of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission and commissioners who were testifying at a hearing last week had ever been a target of a crime themselves. Some had, but Pruitt floated the newest rhetorical attack on the supporters of criminal justice reform: that you don’t have a legitimate voice on crime if you haven’t been a victim.
And now, lo and behold, there’s a call for legislators to become victims.
Though tough-on-crime legislators have deployed incendiary rhetoric about criminal justice reform’s role in the rising crime trends, it’d normally be a leap to lay the responsibility for a threat like this at their feet (like the bogus claim that Sarah Palin’s election map inspired a mass shooting), but some legislators aren’t so sure this time.
“Some people are inspiring people to be bad people,” said a legislator, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The legislator pointed to interactions on social media and suggested there may be more direct encouragement going on behind the scenes. The source expected law enforcement might have a talk with some of the legislators, and said things could come to a head in the next few days.
It gives additional subtext to Edgmon’s statement that “any sort of suggestion of retaliation, for lack of a better word, from anybody in this body or the general public will be dealt with swiftly and immediately.”
So far the House has seen 22 amendments on SB 54 over the weekend. A few were passed, many were voted down and others were withdrawn altogether. Here are a few significant ones.
- A rework of petty theft sentencing guidelines (theft of something $250 and less) to up to five days of jail time for the first conviction (it was five days suspended under SB91), up to ten days for the second conviction (it was five days) and up to 15 days for convictions beyond second (it was ten days). Passed 21-18.
- An hike in sentences for low-level class C felonies that increases jail time for the first offense to up to two years prison time (which also happens to be the same penalty for class B felonies) up from 18 months, two to three years for the second conviction (was one to two under SB 91) , and three to five years for the third and later conviction (was two to five under SB 91). Passed 26-13.
- An amendment to repeal most of Senate Bill 91 failed 27N-13Y.
The amendment process will continue today with a final vote expected by midweek.
— James Brooks (@AK_OK) November 6, 2017